Thursday, January 29, 2009

Nelly Furtado's a Cannibal, But The Queen Prefers Corgis: Welcome to the Music of Tom Rosenthal

Just recently, London-based singer/songwriter frYars sent out a MySpace bulletin urging people to watch a YouTube video by a friend. That friend turned out to be Tom Rosenthal and the video was of a song he wrote called Mark Ronson. After watching and listening to his rather thorough lambasting of Ronson, I had to find out more about him. Much like his friend, frYars, who produces for Rosenthal, he is offbeat, often humourous, and primarily uses piano for his musical narratives. With the wit and whimsy of musical comics like The Mighty Boosh and Flight of the Conchords and the quintessential Britishness and surreality of artists like Eugene MacGuinness and Simon Bookish, Rosenthal is the Oscar Wilde to The Mighty Boosh's Edward Lear.

The gentle, classical piano provides a fantastic background for the tremulous, earnest voice that recounts literate stories that deal with topics ranging through bizarre dreams, Jeremy Kyle, royalty, religion, nudist colonies, fictional sidekicks and Tesco. The tweeness of the musical compositions lends an air of rambling, childish abandon, like a small, precocious child telling stories as they come to him/her, words tumbling out in a torrent of breathless creativity; however, this style belies a deep-seated sophistication and satirical talent.

The aforementioned song Mark Ronson is everything I was thinking about Ronson set to an understated, rolling piano ballad - watch the video above to see and hear what I mean. Rosenthal takes aim at Nelly Furtado in Nelly is a Maneater, a composition that fuses the original Maneater chorus with a carefully constructed backstory that involves Nelly being raised by wolves and consuming animals and CDs until she progresses to full-fledged cannibalism. Rosenthal tackles another songstress for Song for Regina, which is a passionate ode to Spektor in which the narrator professes his love for her and proclaims that he has listened to Samson countless times, but didn't understand what Wonder bread is. In Touch My Bum, Rosenthal intelligently mocks Jamie T and other musicians that say nothing through their music; he expresses this vacuity by saying these artists may as well be singing, "This is life/touch my bum."

In addition to commenting on popular culture figures, Rosenthal has songs about other facets of society. I almost choked on my tongue when Rosenthal completes the first line of his song The Queen: "The Queen sat down for her lunch/she had corgi on toast/because she likes that the most." The song goes on to describe a royal existence that includes playing charades with Prince Philip and watching MTV (at which point, the Queen asks where Enrique Iglesias's mole has gone and Prince Philip replies that it's on an island with Sonny Bono, Elvis Presley and Fred Astaire). I had a similar choke-snorting reaction to a line in the song World's Greatest Lover when after musing why women don't like him, the narrator asks, "Is it because I still play hide and seek...with my mother?"

Another favourite song of mine is Giant Bicycle, which layers spoken word over softly rumbling piano as Rosenthal recounts a six minute digressive description of one of the most surreal dreams I've ever heard (all I can envision is Rosenthal riding a pennyfarthing in the Tour de France); the only song that I can think of that's comparable is Noel Fielding's collaboration with Midfield General. Equally as enchanting is the tripping romp of Away With the Fairies, which takes twee, hippie love to its extreme conclusion: being in love with everyone in the world except Robert Mugabe. It's William Blake with a short circuit. One of the best put-downs to snot-nosed kids comes in the form of Phones Away, Boys; the narrator compares the delinquent youth to Channel 5, KFC, a weed and a triangle in an orchestra. And 1868 is one of the best songs I've ever heard about homophobia (the song culminates in the line, "if Stephen Fry is going to hell, then I want to go with him").

Because Rosenthal believes most of his music should be available for free, he has put a large chunk of his music up on his Web site for download - I recommend the entire lot. By the looks of it, it seems that Tom Rosenthal is bursting with ideas, so I eagerly await new songs and an album. Rosenthal is one of those rare, but perfect combinations of musical acuity, intellectual agility, and imaginative comedy. Like all good satirists, he will outlast the fads he so eloquently observes and trounces.

Giant Bicycle - Tom Rosenthal

Mark Ronson - Tom Rosenthal

The Queen - Tom Rosenthal

Monday, January 26, 2009

They Know Exactly What They're Doing: Helen Love's It's My Club and I'll Play What I Want To

The question is how did I manage to miss out on the Ramones-obsessed Welsh girl group Helen Love for so long? They've been around since 1993 and released four albums prior to the latest one, It's My Club and I'll Play What I Want To, which released last year. With a blend of punk, glam, bubblegum pop and electronic elements, Helen Love feel like the predecessors to bands like Robots in Disguise and Chicks on Speed. They don't take themselves seriously, and they come with some brilliant pop songs. With a pastiche of references from the 60s and 70s, Helen Love fuse the past with the future perfectly. At any rate, I'm going to review their latest album despite the fact it's come about a year late. They're that good.

Like Helen Love's previous work, this album is full of brief, speedy tracks and fantastic little spoken samples that remind me of a Sigue Sigue Sputnik album. The record begins with the title track, which had also been released as a single. It sounds like a Ramones song being played from a bubblegum pink jukebox in a Japanese retro arcade in the year 2050, replete with vocoder and laser sounds. Then the CBGB fantasy Debbie Loves Joey bursts in with guitar-laden pop-punk and cheeky references, including The Stranglers' Peaches. As its title suggests, the following track, Dance On (Solid Gold), takes its influences from disco, but adds an electro-rock feel while You Better Learn Karate is as crazy as anything Polysics could come up with as it kicks the stuffing out of you with hyperspeed. With its repeated snippet of "Great galloping gumdrops," The 1910 Fruitgum Company is an homage to the 60s bubblegum pop group of the same name; it has a bouncy compulsion to it that makes me think of Saturday morning cartoons and the abandon of a Kindergarten class.

After the whirlwind of Transistor Radio, the speed slackens for Jet, which features a snippet of the fantastic dialogue from the 60s Brit comedy The Likely Lads: "In the chocolate box of life the top layer's already gone and someone's pinched the orange cream from the bottom." "Bloody hell." With a springy use of synths, First Boyfriend recalls the ludicrous novelty in the mundanity of a first adolescent romance. A faster, pumping disco beat peppers Rodney's English Disco, yet another brilliant reference, this time to Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, a Los Angeles glam club in the 70s. At under two minutes, Honolulu Superstar is the fastest track on the album while Garage Band uses some jazzy piano interludes and surf rock to tell the story of forming your own band after listening to John Peel. The fun continues with Queen of the Disco Beat, which has blasts of brass and more than a passing resemblence to Rockaway Beach. An anthem to the homebound, Staying In has deadpan verses that are dry enough to peel paint. With 60s girl group flourishes, The New Squad Attacking Formation is a quirky track that makes me think of a gang of teenage girls on scooters terrorizing the neighbourhood. Released as a single, Junkshop Discotheque features a great guitar line as all of Helen Love's musical influences get jammed together very much as the title suggests. The album crashes to its conclusion with Saturday Nite, which surprises with a classical introduction before launching into yet another potential dance anthem.

Now that I'm aware of Helen Love, I eagerly await a new album called Stick It due out this year (it's preceded by the latest single called Calm Down Dad - a song in line with the theme of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, but with a sarcastic sheen that mocks adolescence cool and with a hilarious piece of White Riot at the end). There's something old-fashioned and child-like about Helen Love, but they fire obscure and not-so-obscure references on all cylinders, reminding you that they know exactly what they're doing.

Debbie Loves Joey - Helen Love

1910 Fruitgum Company - Helen Love

Calm Down Dad - Helen Love

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #50

In honour of the fact this mix is the fiftieth in the series, I decided its theme should be John Peel's Festive Fifty. Despite having never actually heard Peel's radio show, its legendary status has been with me and I've always respected Peel and what he stood for: namely, playing the music that he loved and championing the bands he loved even if no one else did. As significant as his radio show and Peel Sessions were, his yearly Festive Fifty remains a massive legacy that others copy the world over, and it has been continued in his honour since his passing in 2004 (most recently picked up by Internet radio station Dandylion Radio). In many ways, Peel is the godfather of music blogs.

I tried to take a track from each year's Festive Fifty from 1976 to 2003, and while running through all these lists, I realized just how much brilliant music Peel championed, and I also noticed how faithful a fan he was. For most years, he had no qualms about picking several tracks from the same bands, and of course, The Fall made the most appearances - that unabashed love of music, in the face of bandwagon jumping, hype machines and arty posing, is something that really connects with me. Not to mention running through all of the Festive Fifty lists is like getting a panoramic snapshot of the music scene through three decades, encompassing punk, post-punk, electronic music, C86, shoegaze, Britpop and even grunge. For the most part, I owned a large chunk of the music featured on each year's Festive Fifty, but the exceptions came in for the late 90s for some reason and for Peel's favourite The Fall - I've never really taken to The Fall, and thus don't own any of their albums; regardless, I figured it wouldn't be a true tribute to John Peel without a track by them, so I included one that I happened to have on a Peel compilation album. Unlike most mixes I make, this one will follow a semi-chronological order rather than be based on some sort of subjective system. As a side note, I've included the Unknown Pleasures version of She's Lost Control as opposed to the later re-released single version. This mix is called Long Live Peel.

Won't Get Fooled Again - The Who

Complete Control - The Clash

Boredom - Buzzcocks

Are Friends Electric? - Gary Numan and The Tubeway Army

She's Lost Control - Joy Division

O Superman - Laurie Anderson

Requiem - Killing Joke

Eat Y'self Fitter - The Fall

This Charming Man - The Smiths

Kangaroo - This Mortal Coil

Never Understand - The Jesus and Mary Chain

Frans Hals - McCarthy

Suedehead - Morrissey

Kennedy - The Wedding Present

Therese - The Bodines

Sexuality - Billy Bragg

French Disko - Stereolab

Babies - Pulp

If Fingers Were Xylophones - Gorky's Zygotic Mynci

Abba on the Jukebox - Trembling Blue Stars

Windowlicker - Aphex Twin

Painting and Kissing - Hefner

Chinese Whispers - Melys

Green Grass of Tunnel - Mùm

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The 2009 Brit Awards: I Know I Shouldn't Bother, But I Will Anyway

I already did a fairly comprehensive rant about last year's Brit Award nominations, and when I first saw the Brit nominations for this year, I just expelled a huge sigh and asked myself, why bother wasting my energy again over a year that clearly mirrors last year's nominations and many of the preceding disappointing years? Then I had another think, and figured "because it could be funny." And in these supposedly dark times, I would like to spread a little vitriolic cheer. With the customary practice of giving all the nominations to a select few artists, there's rarely any hope for variety and/or fairness at the Brit Awards, but that will not stop my commentary. In the spirit of a Jarvis Cocker bum in the air, I will plod through the sodden flotsam and jetsam that has washed up on the shores of this year's Brits and give it a good go-over with the metal detector (preferably a Bill Wyman brand one) to expose the worth in the detritus and then confirm that those ones won't win anything.

British Male Solo Artist

Ian Brown
James Morrison
Paul Weller
The Streets
Will Young

I wasn't even aware the Mancunian monkey man had a record out last year - to be honest, I haven't really followed him since the dissolution of The Stone Roses, and I'm thinking most of the press hasn't either. I have a feeling the people doing the nominating recognized his name and figured he was old, and thus somehow credible. Then there's James Morrison, who hails from the same school of bland balladry as James Blunt (maybe he is actually James Blunt - it's a mere difference of surname and I've never seen them together in the same place). The Modfather himself makes an appearance as a nod to his legendary, previously lauded status at the Brits, and frankly, he's the best on this list. To stay hip with the kids, the Brits nominated The Streets (AKA Mike Skinner) even though no one, including the kids, probably cares anymore about his overwrought, self-pitying rap narratives. And finally, there's Will Young, the King of All Pop Idols, who seems to have the resilience of a cockroach and even managed an appearance at Glastonbury last year - I have to give him credit for his tenacity even though his music tends to hit me like globs of unsalted oatmeal.

British Female Solo Artist

Beth Rowley

In the event of Amy Winehouse's incapacitation, Adele and Duffy have valiantly stepped forward as retro Brit darlings for this year. Then there's more non-descript r&b/pop from Estelle, and what I figure is AOR in the form of Beth Rowley in order to represent the Diana Krall set. The only one out of this pack that I would give a vote to is MIA, but somehow I don't think she or I would win.

British Breakthrough Act

The Last Shadow Puppets
Scouting for Girls
The Ting Tings

Guess who? More of the dueling Winehouses. And then some indie/mainstream from the frontman of the illustrious Arctic Monkeys (well, if the Arctic Monkeys can't be nominated for the bazillionth time, they have to find alternatives), and the equally irritating Scouting for Girls and The Ting Tings (I only just realized that Scouting for Girls were the people behind that grating She's So Lovely song and Elvis is Dead, which gets played on our indie radio station without obviously making any proper impression on me, but enough to make me remember that I hate it).

British Group

Girls Aloud
Take That

I'm still trying to work out the wonky rules for who qualifies - I feel like Radiohead's album came out too long ago to be considered for this year (despite the fact they deserve the accolades more than most on this list). Man-boy-band Take That have seemingly slipped under the wire with a new album (practically sharing a title with Britney Spears' comeback album), allowing them to be nominated yet again this year; they, too, have something of the cockroach about them. I will admit I did get a kick watching the music video for their lead-off single, Greatest Day, where Gary Barlow sings while the rest merely go "oh oh" and windmill and stomp in the background like they're having epileptic fits or a very bad case of pins and needles. Elbow is here because the Brits don't want to be outdone by the Mercury Prize while Coldplay is here (and leading the pack for nominations) because they've somehow mesmerized the masses with a whole new level of stadium-ready wallpaper paste complete with pseudo-spiritual fumes (the same kind U2 has been using for the last couple of decades). And last but I don't even think least, is Girls Aloud, the pop group that it's okay for hipsters to like. I'm still not a fan of the girl group, but at the very least they could snap Chris Martin in half like a twiglet. And feed him to Gary Barlow.

British Live Act

Iron Maiden
Scouting for Girls
The Verve

I haven't seen any of these bands live, but we get more repetition with the likes of Coldplay, Elbow and Scouting for Girls (I was always of the opinion that I would fall into a deep coma at one of Coldplay's shows - for me, Chris Martin has the charisma of an inclined plane). Then there's a slightly bizarre addition of Iron Maiden, who I have a feeling put on a better live show than The Verve.

British Album

Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends
Duffy - Rockferry
Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
Radiohead - In Rainbows
The Ting Tings - We Started Nothing

No surprises here. While Elbow or Radiohead should get it, I have a feeling Coldplay or Duffy are the main contenders. I would love to be proven wrong, though.

British Single

Adele - Chasing Pavements
Alexandra Burke - Hallelujah
Coldplay - Viva la Vida
Dizzee Rascal/Calvin Harris/Chrome - Dance Wiv Me
Duffy - Mercy
Estelle feat. Kanye West - American Boy
Girls Aloud - The Promise
Leona Lewis - Better in Time
Scouting for Girls - Heartbeat
X-Factor Finalists - Hero

I tried to make a concerted effort to listen to all of these, but after Alexandra Burke and Leona Lewis, you cannot expect me to even attempt a song by X-Factor Finalists, too. I'm only human. Not dancer. Perhaps Adele thought "Snow Patrol did really well with Chasing Cars...hmmm...what goes with cars? Oh yeah, pavement. No wait that should still be plural even though it doesn't make any sense." Dance Wiv Me is yet another hip-hop song about female bodies, dancing, sex, etc. augmented by Calvin Harris's retro electro stylings and deadpan singing - it doesn't do a ving for me. When I bothered to listen to American Boy, all I can think is that I've heard it on an advert somewhere - apparently it did nothing for my recall of either the song itself or the product being sold. Then there's our favourite nominee Coldplay with their perfect-for-emotional-news-program-montages Viva La Vida (we get it, you like bombastic syncopation). Additionally, there's Duffy's version of Rehab. And now I can rest assured that Scouting for Girls is definitely more teenybopper drivel in indie hipster clothing.

International Album

AC/DC - Black Ice
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
The Killers - Day and Age
Kings of Leon - Only By the Night
MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

Here we get some elder statesmen of rock with more of the same style all these years later, but who likely strike a nostalgic chord. And what list would be complete without the ubiquitous Fleet Foxes? I would also like those responsible for nominations to know that it is not obligatory that The Killers be nominated every year when they've lost their honourary Britishness a long time ago. My pick this time is MGMT, and because of their mainstream crossover appeal, they may have a chance. Then again, Kings of Leon have probably had one of the biggest crossovers of 2008 centred on their hit song Sex On Fire - I can't speak for the rest of the album since I've never listened to it.

International Male Solo Artist

Neil Diamond
Kanye West
Seasick Steve

Of course Beck has to be nominated as the token avant-garde guy while Jay-Z and Kanye West have to be nominated to represent hip-hop. Nothing shocking here and nothing worth more commentary. But who is Seasick Steve? Neil Diamond is looking pretty good right about now.

International Female Solo Artist

Gabriella Cilmi
Katy Perry

We get the pop songstress regulars like Beyonce and Pink, along with Katy Perry, who somehow comes across cheaper than the pin-up girls she's emulating. I had to look up who Gabriella Cilmi is (defying the laws of pronunciation, I still keep seeing her last name as an invitation to murder), and lo and behold, she also sounds like Amy Winehouse, but with some Anastacia as well. If pressed and if it mattered, I would pick Santogold for this category.

International Group

Fleet Foxes
The Killers
Kings of Leon

I see. Someone thought, well, we already have a list of International Album nominees - how about we just use the exact same people for this category? No one will notice.

And finally, the Critics Choice Award has already been handed out to Florence and the Machine, who sounds like Kate Nash attempting to do The Long Blondes. I've had enough of these acts that look like they stepped out of the NME Cool List. I'm frankly just bored by it all, and I'm close to throwing out all the striped stockings I own.

Admittedly, the hosts for the Brits are better this year (last year, Ozzy had his family practically propping him up with a broom); this year Kylie will be hosting alongside Gavin and Stacey stars James Corden and Matthew Horne as they make further rounds as music awards hosts. And this year at least I'm not offended by the choice for Outstanding Contribution to Music: Pet Shop Boys. In addition to Pet Shop Boys, performers announced so far are U2, Kings of Leon, Duffy, Girls Aloud, Coldplay and Take That. I think U2 and Coldplay should have a pomposity-off, spastically circling each other until they combust in a fiery ball that takes out Third World debt. And I wouldn't mind seeing if Gary Barlow remains glued to his piano seat while the rest breakdance around him. Or maybe they'll all just windmill like a human mini-golf course. Well, now that I've got all that off my chest, I feel much better. I'm a bit surprised that even the Brits got tired of Kaiser Chiefs, and there's no mention of Oasis. Maybe there's a glimmer of hope after all.

Pretty Boring - No and the Maybes

Peggy Moffitt Look-Alikes - Mikrofisch

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Soundtrack to Daydreams: Hauschka's Ferndorf and Snowflakes and Carwrecks

Released last October, Ferndorf, the fourth album by German artist Hauschka (real name: Volker Bertelmann) is a stunning piece of instrumental music, and he is following it up by releasing a new EP entitled Snowflakes and Carwrecks on February 3. Using the idea of "prepared piano" (meaning he often attaches different objects, like beer bottles, leather, guitar strings and phone cords, to the innards of his piano to achieve different sounds), Hauschka recalls the experimental flavour of artists like John Cage and Erik Satie. However, having only listened to this album and EP of his, I don't feel that Hauschka is particularly inaccessibly experimental; instead, he weaves unexpected tones and sounds into classical piano framework. In a way, he reminds me of a stripped-down, avant-garde version of Bardi Johannsson. This album, a tribute to Hauschka's home, is an emotionally moving set of classically-based tracks in which the narrator seems to speak through a dialogue between the voice of the piano and voices of the string duo. Then there are times when all the instruments seem to speak at once in a transcendent cacophony. At times urgent and breathless, at other times jubilant and carnivalesque, and at yet other times pensive and brooding, Ferndorf (which translates as "distant village") is a meditation on Hauschka's home village in rural Germany. The latest EP is a beautiful extension of Hauschka's childhood memories, and it becomes evident how difficult it must have been to choose only twelve tracks for the original full album.

Ferndorf begins with Blue Bicycle, a track with insistent piano that mimicks pumping legs on bicycle pedals, complementary strings that slice across like shafts of sunlight, and less readily identifiable sounds that at times sound like gravel beneath tires and a ringing bicycle bell; it's a fantastically exhilarating song that flies along with as much energy and imagination as Yann Tiersen's work for Amelie. This is followed by the more sober Morgenrot, which uses the lower register of the cello as a gentle cradle for the higher, lingering tones of the piano as the whole piece sways and tiptoes about like a ballerina dancing at dawn. Rode Null then comes in with a propulsive, percussive bass sound and more unidentifiable clacks and clinks before the violin comes in with a staccato style; soon after, more strings join in until there is a wonderfully intricate interplay between the piano, strings and rhythmic accents, dodging gracefully under and over each other with pastoral precision like the ribbons on a May pole. Freibad, named for the outdoor swimming pools/lakes that are common in Germany, engages the lower register again as an almost grinding patience before the song becomes more urgent and whimiscal with what sounds like muted brass and scurrying scratches of sound - this is no breezy ride as in Blue Bicycle. You can feel the excitement and need of youth in every bar. With its percussive pluckings and scattered plinks, Barfuss Durch Gras is indeed evocative of skipping barefoot through the whistling grass while Heimat soothes ginger footfalls with gentle piano as smooth as cursive writing and a promise of the familiarity of home.

The darkness of an evergreen wood creeps in with Nadelwald and its swathes of lower strings and flickering piano like constantly shifting bits of dappled light hitting the forest floor; you can imagine the forest being both a verdant refuge and an unknowable entity. The mood changes again with Schönes Mädchen and its almost Asian flavour of percussive, staccato sounds underneath the unfurling of expansive strings; you can feel a sweet freedom pouring into your lungs and swirling around your limbs like dewy fog. Eltern, which is the first song to be featured in an animated music video triptych by Overture and can be watched here, is a dreamy, mournful piece with a crackling backdrop of miscellaneous rattles and clinks that almost feels like mental static; the song feels both solemn and comforting perhaps in the way all parents do. Alma continues the dreamy atmosphere, but it also features some beautiful slides and hesitant syncopation, which provide an undulating movement to the music like an inquistive child negotiating a natural landscape for the first time. As gentle as the new snow it references, Neuschnee floats on buoyant puffs of violin and soft drifts of piano. The album concludes with Weeks of Rain, a mysterious track with little flourishes that interrupt the piano until erupting into a golden quivering that envelopes and enhances the metallic sound of the keys.

For Snowflakes and Carwrecks, Hauschka is releasing previously unreleased pieces from the Ferndorf sessions, featuring three much longer tracks than anything on Ferndorf. Opening track, Ginsterweg, is more persistent piano that steals your breath away like an overwhelming, heady wind and spins about you like a miniature tornado. Then the light tinkling of Eisblume comes in with its tentative fragility pushing its way from the depths of the cello; you can imagine a delicate mountain bloom unfurling under ice droplets that are as perfectly formed as tears. The staccato style returns with Wonder and its gleeful bobbing and skipping akin to a joyful folk dance leading into the statelier, nine-minute Tanz, which uses harsher strings and metallic vibrations to create an elegant vignette of dignifed beauty before whirling into a jaunty second half of frenzied, complex rhythms appropriate for a gypsy. The energy level comes down again for Kindelsberg, a haunting piece littered with pauses like tantalizing ripened fruit ready to drop from the tree while Hauberg uses more staccato plinking and flowing, romantic strings to weave an exotic fairy tale of a song. The final track, Tagtraum, is a deliciously hazy song featuring small hiccups of sound over a mesmerizing backdrop - it's like finding yourself in a mirror world, which while reflecting and appearing as the real world, also carries unusual glitches that disturb its tranquil surface.

Visit FatCat Records to purchase Ferndorf and to pre-order Snowflakes and Carwrecks (with stunning cover art like this, physical copies would be a treasure). You can also read a recent Pitchfork interview with Hauschka here. Both Ferndorf and Snowflakes and Carwrecks are stunning musical concepts that wipe the windows of the world with nostalgia, taking bleary-eyed memories and polishing them with the very fabric of dreams. The ebb and flow of distance and immediacy lulls you into a sweet hypnosis of reminiscence. Hauschka's music is like skipping stones in the pools of your childhood memories, providing the soundtrack to daydreams.

Blue Bicycle - Hauschka

Eltern - Hauschka

Tanz - Hauschka

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #49

While basing an entire mix on song titles with colours in them may seem like a cop-out, I would like to offer a little more commentary than pointing out that many bands put colours into their band names and song titles. In fact, I'm quite fascinated by the involuntary neurological phenomena of colour synesthesia in which a person can see colours in response to aural stimuli, most often music. I first heard about this phenomena via an episode of QI, and I was a little surprised when I, too, saw the "correct" colour associated with the musical tone provided. I know I likely don't have the actual condition in which colours involuntarily flash before my eyes while listening to music, but I feel like I may experience some sort of sensory crossover, and you may have noted some of this visual, colourful aspect creeping into my music reviews and descriptions. I, myself, hadn't thought about it too much, but in looking back, it seems I do insert colour imagery into how I experience music; of course this may also just be part of painting pictures with words, a feature of my writing that has always been there. Or maybe I watched too much Fantasia as a child.

I've also always been interested in the idea of colour as both a formative influence and an illusion. As children, we are led to believe that there's something pretty fundamental about colours - along with shapes, they form much of our first experiences of the world around us. A lot of our first bits of language relate to colour as it becomes one of the most important categories of adjectives as though colour were something concrete. (Useless personal trivia: I was very attached to a particular magenta Crayola crayon as a small child despite it not being my favourite colour...although not as odd as the kid who used to eat crayons and shoelaces only to regurgitate them.) However, what's more interesting to me is the fact there would be no colour without light nor without the appartus of our own human eyes, and sometimes I like to scare myself a little by thinking of the world as being no particular colour at all.

In fact, in my first year of university, I wrote a short story about a boy who appeared relatively blind most of the time, but upon further investigation, actually saw the world the way bees did - in essence, he saw things in a spectrum humans couldn't, including ultraviolet and what is called "bee purple," a mixture of ultraviolet and yellow. While the story itself wasn't terribly well-crafted, it still interests me as an idea and reminds me of how humans impose their own perceptions on the world around them. I like to marvel about exceptional things like colour blindness and a spectrum extending beyond my own perception; the environment outside my body isn't absolute, and in many ways, my eyes' translation of light as colour is the same as my brain's translation of objects into language. Oddly enough, though we use colour to describe objects, many colours take their name from objects, including coral, plum, ruby, and sepia.

Colours take on evocative characteristics that are somehow irrational yet innately human, making the majority of people see Monday as blue, loading goth clothing with semantic weight and imbuing rainbows with magic. It's also the reason that films with hyperreal colours like Amelie and La Double Vie de Veronique actually feel different from films like Metropolis or The Maltese Falcon, and why a film like Wings of Desire can convey the split narrative it does so poignantly. In effect, colours can be music.

At any rate, this mix features songs with connections to colour in their titles - there was definitely plenty to choose from. I would like to add that I've included the original version of The Psychedelic Furs' Pretty in Pink rather than the commercialized version from the John Hughes' movie of the same name, which completely missed the point of the song. I've also included a bonus track that doesn't quite fit the mix proper, the ever-popular Rainbow Connection by Kermit (a song that I will forever associate with my high school Chemistry teacher, a man with a glass eye and a steely manner, but who one day wordlessly propped up a photo of Kermit with his banjo, began playing Rainbow Connection and launched into a gracefully timed performance in which he transformed chemicals into the various colours of the rainbow and then back to clear again within the parameters of the song - so utterly brilliant that sometimes I think I dreamt it). This one is called Synesthesiac.

Colours - Calvin Harris

She's a Colour Scientist - Robots in Disguise

Red Paint - The Sound

Turquoise Days - Echo & the Bunnymen

Indigo Eyes - Peter Murphy

Mr. Brown - Puressence

Red Sleeping Beauty - McCarthy

Grey Streets - Felt

Blue - Kicker

Orange Car - Mary Go Round

Silver Sands - Stereolab

Blackout - David Bowie

Tell Me When My Light Turns Green - Dexy's Midnight Runners

Gold Against the Soul - Manic Street Preachers

Purple Haze - The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Pretty in Pink - The Psychedelic Furs

Black White - The Raveonettes

Start Wearing Purple - Gogol Bordello

The Monochrome Set - The Monochrome Set

Silicone on Sapphire - The Clash

Blue Girls - Pulp

Saffron, Beautiful and Brown-Eyed - Trembling Blue Stars

Rainbow - Boris featuring Michio Kurihara

Bonus Track:

Rainbow Connection - Kermit the Frog

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cocooned in a Soft Solitude: Andrew Keese and The Associates' Desire

Apparently, Australia isn't all about Nick Cave, The Go-Betweens and Modular anymore - I was sent a debut album entitled Desire by a band called Andrew Keese and The Associates that caught my attention. This four-piece from Melbourne has blended chamber pop with country/folk and added some thoughtful, often poignant, lyrics to splendid effect. As its apt title suggests, this self-released album is full of unfulfilled yearning, sometimes to the point of regret, and these emotions are brought to the foreground by the Morrisseyesque vocals from frontman Keese. At times, Keese's vocals shift from warm tones to raspy desperation and they often verge on maudlin grandeur. In turn, the poetic lyrics reflect a position that can be fragile, bitter, resigned and sublimely romantic all at once.

Opening track, Mercy, is a short instrumental featuring only the piano and brave pauses, and it sets up the understated album quite nicely. The album then takes a slightly unexpected turn as Little Possessions fills out the sound with hovering Hammond organ and broad strokes of piano, culminating in a folk-tinged lilt complete with a twangy guitar solo. The next track, Transmission, moves a little differently over a tumbling undercurrent of melodic guitars and bubbling vocals while one of my favourite tracks, Blessed Are the Meek, shelters under an arcadian canopy of violins and features the brilliant line "they think it's a clarion call, but it's only semaphore." The lyrics get even more careworn and wistful with The Shadows, a track that rolls along to driving guitars and Keese's soaring vocals. Then comes another favourite of mine: The Burden of Proof. This melancholy ballad documents a soul-chafing, lonely night in which the narrator laments "there's nothing left but the words in my mouth" and expresses regret over a relationship somehow misspent, where proving oneself becomes the biggest burden. This is followed by Ameline, a wry ballad that reminds me a bit of Elvis Costello, and which features another fantastic line in which the narrator compares his ex-lover's words to both vintage wine and alkaline.

The following two tracks, called Singapore and Sertraline Hydrochloride respectively, work like companion pieces and together clock in at twelve minutes, featuring a languid snare to bind them in romantic misfortune. They both burn as slowly and sorrowfully as the embers of the narrator's cigarette in the former track, and the latter track, named for an anti-depressant, ends up mimicking an increasingly numb struggle beneath heavy limbs and an even heavier heart. The first real spark of vitriol appears in the snide lyrics and sneery vocals of the track Someday in which the narrator derides an ex-lover and promises a karmic comeuppance; however, even with this vengeful tone, the song manages to remain beautifully self-wounding. The record ends with title track, Desire, which picks the mood and tempo back up again with a jauntiness that belies the realistic, albeit cynical, outlook on the limitations of love affairs. After the song builds and builds against the quivering organ, an ever-mounting whirlwind of emotion, it concludes the album back where it started with a solo piano.

The entire album is available for streaming and free download via the band's Web site, but it is definitely worth purchasing, especially since it includes four bonus tracks not available on the free version. Andrew Keese and The Associates take the gentle cadences of classical elements and marry them to the mournful essence of country/folk to achieve a record of exquisite longing cocooned in a soft solitude, filtering memory like a twilit blindfold.

Blessed Are the Meek - Andrew Keese and The Associates

The Burden of Proof - Andrew Keese and The Associates

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Secondhand Daylight #1: Jane Siberry's The Walking

I think this will be the start of an intermittent series here at CTRNR - many other bloggers do it, so I don't know why I didn't bother with it before. Of course all series but the weekly mix one will be intermittent, but that's just because I'm lazy and easily distracted (in a rather embarrassing eight-hour binge last evening, I watched a fantasy film marathon on a movie channel, including Legend, The Clash of the Titans, Excalibur, and Ladyhawke). Anyhow, this series, entitled Secondhand Daylight, will be about albums I happen to pick up at used music shops, and considering I pretty much only shop at used music shops (since the closure of A&B Sound, all the music shops that sell brand new music in the city aren't really worth going into and since my music wants can often be difficult to track down here, I've also become an avid online shopper), this series should work out all right. There's something especially fun about going to a shop that sells used CDs and records - I think it's that sense of discovering something completely unexpected and possibly life-changing. I'm not being particularly hyperbolic when I say life-changing; after all, I found a copy of Generation Terrorists in a used music shop. There's also a part of me, albeit a mentally ill part, that feels like I'm rescuing old, unloved CDs and records that have been discarded by their owners. I like cleaning up old discs and cases and giving them a spot on my shelves. While this series will likely feature albums and artists that many of you will already be familiar with, it will be my way of sharing some of that heart-pumping excitement of experiencing a record for the first time.

This first installment of Secondhand Daylight is about Jane Siberry's 1987 album The Walking, which I picked up a couple of days ago for a mere $5. Having only heard Siberry's hit song One More Colour, but also knowing that the Toronto-born singer-songwriter was an indie music touchstone, I decided to give this record a go. According to Wikipedia, The Walking was a critical success but a popular failure - a fact that just boggles my mind because I found this album to be very accessible in addition to it being an incredible piece of work. Although, I suppose an album that is composed of eight tracks that average six minutes in length with the longest two being nine and eleven minutes respectively, isn't exactly standard for a pop record. Nor is the use of several different voices to represent various characters in scattered narratives that take up eight panels of lyrics in the liner notes. In fact, the lyrics in the liner notes are extraordinary pieces of art in their own right with their numerous digressions and literary tricks. Rather than attempt to explain what I mean, you can take a look at the following set of lyrics for the uniquely titled song Lena is a White Table:

first you go up the hill
(don't forget to say the church)
the church why? i don't think...
(in case they miss the turn)
let me do the talking
(you make mistakes sometimes)
well so do you too
never let me talk
yaahhh - drink your beer
this is no surprise

they're always arguing. they're from down in...
(darts my friend?)
and when you reach the top
out on the scraggy backs just there
say - you must be new
a movie camera! (ooohh!)
(darts?) don't! (over his shoulder as he goes to play darts)
(darts my friend?)

how does she hang the clothes
climb up on herself?
there's a house (white)
a back porch (grey)
just a table there
(don't forget the laundry line)
yes - nobody knows how far it goes (many men have died
past the fishing banks
probably past the edge of the earth maybe

and sometimes there is a chair the table legs they never
move waiting and
pressing and the clothesline stop don't move

well, maybe she should go to school
no, no...she's a table
lena's a white table

and in the afternoon
and in the autumn air
the porch is bare and still
there is a waiting there
and flint the laundry line
apples rolling down the hill

i hope that she's here
what if she's not here
i don't think she's here
i hope she's not here
don't you think she's here
i don't think she's here

and sometimes there is a chair the table legs they never
move waiting and pressing and the clothesline stop don't move
well, maybe she should go to school
no, no...she's a table
lena's a white table
well, maybe she should learn to pray
no, no...she's a table
lena's a white table
we saw her waiting by the line
which line? the laundry line
waiting for the clothes to dry
what if she freezes in mid-air?
no no no no no...

As you can see, it's poetry on the page, using a variety of techniques including stage directions and asides, which become delicately overdubbed vocals from Siberry. With its degree of imagination and scope, this one song is more ambitious than the majority of albums these days. Throughout every track, everyday relationships become cinematic and romantic in their flawed bittersweetness while inner monologues compete with external voices until they are no longer distinguishable from each other and they threaten to overtake the narrator in a heap of breathless emotion.

While the lyrical composition is complex and the musical arrangements mirror their complexity, it doesn't feel like work listening to this record; instead, this record reminds me of being immersed in Kate Bush and Cocteau Twins at the same time. Composed of several mini-suites, which perfectly suit the myriad lyrical shifts, this album is actually like having an autumnal walk through unpredictable, but gorgeous, sonic landscapes full of bubbling brooks and pollen-drunk bumblebees, sky-rending thunderstorms and dense fogs, melting ice cream and rattling streetcars. Like most great art, Siberry presents you with a view of the familiar in a completely unfamiliar way and under a completely unfamiliar guise. The mundane world and its actors are transformed as though seen through a faerie tapestry. Siberry's voice reels from operatic to mournfully dissonant to rich and warm like perfect pitch in the pit of your stomach. She runs through serenity, alarm, and bubbly sweetness in the movements that make up just the first song, The White Tent The Raft, alone, and the shortest track, Goodbye, is a fierce scrabble through loneliness as Siberry herself becomes the howling wind keening along the seashore, sculpting the sand as much as her lyrics carve lines on the page. One of the most poppy songs (and one of my favourites) is Ingrid and the Footman, and it recounts an offbeat relationship with a glittering humour and a fantastic exchange between male and female voices before Siberry's comes in like a gleeful play-acting child.

I'm now very tempted to purchase the copy of Siberry's Bound By the Beauty that I didn't bother buying in the same store. Apparently a few years ago, Siberry changed her name to Issa and completely decommodified her life, but I'm thinking I should look into her more recent work as well.

The White Tent The Raft - Jane Siberry

Ingrid and the Footman - Jane Siberry

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #48

I realized recently that I missed having a weekly mix in honour of St. Andrew's Day in the midst of the year-end wrap-up hullabaloo, and since I did ones for both St. David's Day and St. Patrick's Day last year, I figure it's only fair to compile a Scottish mix for this week in a belated fashion. At the very least, this was one of the easiest compilations I've ever made because a large percentage of the music I own is Scottish - it's been a natural gravitation towards both Scottish music and Scottish people. Several people that I consider my friends live in Scotland; in fact, I think they're the second largest group after friends in my home city.

Of course in my many travels overseas, I've managed to visit Scotland twice - the first time was in 2000 when my friends and I did a day trip to Edinburgh while living in Teeside and the second time was three years later on my backpacking trip when my friend and I spent a couple of days in Glasgow. On the latter trip, despite being in the midst of a raging sinus infection that had nearly taken me out whilst in Ireland, I still only have good memories of Scotland. These good memories include two brilliant acts of kindness. The first came when we disembarked from the ferry in Stranraer and didn't have a clue where our hostel was. When we asked one of the guys that worked on the ferry, he offered to walk with us into town and help us find it; in the end, he wasn't sure himself and ended up paying for our taxi there. Then when we were in Glasgow, I finally opted to see a doctor to ensure that my infection didn't get worse. Though it should have cost me a fair bit to see the doctor, the clinic ended up waiving the fee and I went on my merry way to get my antibiotics. There are two possible explanations for these events: either Scottish people are some of the nicest people in the world or I looked so downtrodden and homeless by this point that they pitied me. My guess is it's a bit of both.

I was further inspired to put together this mix because iamchemist, a Scottish musician that is one of those friends I mentioned earlier, was kind enough to send me links to watch a BBC documentary called Caledonia Dreamin', which tracks the development of the Scottish music scene from Postcard to the present and can be watched starting here. Many of the bands featured in the documentary crop up here, but considering bands like Deacon Blue and Wet Wet Wet give me the willies, there won't be any of that sort here. Postcard heroes Orange Juice, Josef K, and Aztec Camera sit alongside post-punk like Simple Minds, Cocteau Twins and The Associates, C86 bands like The Vaselines, Close Lobsters, and The Pastels, and the newest slew of bands continuing the impressive Scottish tradition, including Frightened Rabbit, Camera Obscura, and Sons and Daughters. This one's called The Sound of Young Scotland.

I Travel - Simple Minds

Burning Libraries - Stroszek

Blood In Your Eyes - The Retrosexuals

Number One - Salon Boris

Just Like Honey - The Jesus and Mary Chain

In the Gold Dust Rush - Cocteau Twins

Party Fears Two - The Associates

Sweet Suburbia - The Skids

The Greys - Frightened Rabbit

Blue Boy - Orange Juice

Sorry For Laughing - Josef K

Gunpowderkeg - Close Lobsters

Profit in Your Poetry - Butcher Boy

Broken Bones - Sons & Daughters

These Wooden Ideas - Idlewild

Pillar to Post - Aztec Camera

Candyskin - The Fire Engines

Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying - Belle & Sebastian

Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken? - Lloyd Cole & the Commotions

Maybe I Should Drive - Trash Can Sinatras

Fields of Fire - Big Country

All the Rage - The Royal We

Son of a Gun - The Vaselines

The Sun on His Back - Camera Obscura

Sidewinder - Teenage Fanclub

Breaking Lines - The Pastels

Real Toys - Altered Images

Cherubs - Arab Strap

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Raving On His Own: Sune Rose Wagner's Solo Album

As if he weren't busy enough last year, Sune Rose Wagner, better known as one half of The Raveonettes, digitally released a self-titled solo album back on December 8, but I've just gotten around to listening to it now. This record highlights an interesting issue that crops up for me once and awhile, namely assessing music with lyrics in a language I have no knowledge of. You see, Wagner's solo debut is completely in his native Danish. With songs in French and German, I have a hope of understanding the lyrics, but Danish, despite its similarities to German, is well out of my range. It's not like I can't appreciate music in and of itself without knowing the lyrics - I've done so with many Welsh-language tracks; it's just that without knowing what the words mean, the lyrics become less of an exercise in semantics and more about sonic aesthetics. By sonic aesthetics, I mean an appreciation of how a language sounds in an abstract way; for example, I find the Welsh language very naturally lyrical and poetic without understanding more than a few words and phrases. After listening to Wagner's solo album, I find the Danish language to be just as romantic and beautiful. Also, without a distraction of meaning, I get to concentrate far more on the music itself. Musically, Wagner continues to wear his earlier influences on his sleeve, including Sonic Youth, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Velvet Underground, and 50s Americana, but he seems to have shed the darker, brooding noise of last year's Raveonettes' album in favour of a dreamy pop sensibility and 60s influences ranging from girl groups to Francoise Hardy.

The album kicks off with the bouncy snares of Hvad Der Sker, a sunny, melodic piece with Wagner's distinctive trebley vocals and echoey, chiming guitars, a song which makes me envision girls dancing in white gogo boots. The following track, Et Underfuldt Liv, is a little slower and moodier, but with its sonic textures and light, sing-song vocals it recalls the psychedelic flamboyance of Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd. Afgrunden then bursts forward with a gorgeous assault of layered guitars that are as bright as white light. Altid is like those slower, 50s-inspired ballads with tomtom and tambourine that he does so well with The Raveonettes, but it has less white noise and thus gains a purity and sweetness without the tempering of a dirtier sound. The album continues with Tyskerpiger, a track which, with its more ominous undertones, would feel perfect as a soundtrack to a late 60s party for the drugged-up mods and it-girls on their spiralling descent. A gentle innocence pervades Samme Vej while a more plodding beat dominates Svinske Maend. Featuring those 50s chord progressions and triplet rhythms, Gi' Mig En Pige is like a lullaby prom song. Like Hvad Der Sker, Beruset Og Forhadt is entering swinging 60s territory with its bopping drumbeat and its groovy guitar licks and effects. Wagner finishes the record off with mournful-sounding Din Mund, which floats along like hypnotic mod swirls and refracted, watery light from a slow-moving disco ball.

This album may not be a huge departure from Wagner's work in The Raveonettes, but it is still a commendable piece of work; Wagner isn't exactly a yé-yé girl, but he has his moments of retro chic and trendy naivete. As of yet, there doesn't appear to be a physical copy of the album available, but Wagner is going on a solo tour throughout February and March in Denmark. You can also view an intimate live set he performed back in October here. This album, which would find its most likely market in Denmark, is an obviously personal project for Sune Rose Wagner, but like all good music, it transcends language barriers.

Hvad Der Sker - Sune Rose Wagner

Beruset Og Forhadt - Sune Rose Wagner

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Am I a Music Snob?: A Matter of Taste

This post is a response, or a riposte of sorts, to the teacup-sized tempest incited by my piece on Christmas number ones. You see, there were no negative comments on my own original post, but when my friend, JC, over at The Vinyl Villain decided to be hugely kind by re-posting it on his blog, comments flew in quite quickly and the majority of them were of the lambaste persuasion. I was frankly quite surprised and baffled, but JC, being the noble blogger he is, defended me several times before conceding that maybe he and I are in the minority when it comes to X-Factor singles, Christmas number ones and the complacency of the masses. Now, I don't have any particular hard feelings about the negative things that were directed at me (the very nature of public writing is the need for a tough skin), but I feel impelled, at the very least, to defend myself a bit and in the process, hopefully, provide some more clarity about my argument and thoughts. And at the same time, I can address some ideas I've been wanting to write about anyway. Whether this will end up digging me into some deeper chasm or not remains to be seen.

One of the most prevalent charges laid against me was that I was a music snob or elitist. Snobbery and elitism are present in every facet of life, especially in the realm of cultural or artistic objects like visual art, films and books, but perhaps are most rampant and rabid in the area of music. Music snobbery or "hipsterdom" is maybe as visible as it is because music is an omnipresent art that large amounts of the population enjoy, and the more fanatic people get about music, the more in-fighting and one-upping can occur. You can call it the Pitchfork Syndrome: a two-pronged phenomenon that takes in both the über-hipster persona of Ryan Schreiber and friends and the mob-like attitude to run either a critic or artist out of town. Like every other preference in the artistic world, music taste is used for both self-definition and group affiliation. People have a need to identify themselves in relation to the world around them - there wouldn't be so many personal profiles, blogs and widgets on-line if this weren't true. Humans have an innate sense of judgement and binary formation; by judgement, I mean a constant, often subconscious, impulse to classify people and things, and by binary formation, I mean a capacity to see everything in terms of opposites and contrasts. We want to be able to process information and our environment, and in order to do so, we often take shortcuts in pre-judging others and labelling as best we can before filing them away in our brains. It's not because we're hateful or petty - it's because we're human. Though some people are just hateful and petty, but that's a matter for a different time.

Ambiguity doesn't always sit well, and despite how much we try to fight binarism, it creeps in because we simply have no other way of talking about things in relation to each other. One of the first concepts we learn as children is opposites. For a further example of binaries at work, I took a course in 18th century literature that looked at the issue of sexual disguise and gender ambiguity; I completely understand the need for multiplicities in gender and sexual identity, but to say that it helps to create a theory called "female masculinity," doesn't completely work. Within that theory is the assumption that there are still fundamental differences between femininity and masculinity, but the theory needs this binary in order to make its point. So as to not completely digress myself senseless, I think that in order to discuss music, it is often inevitable that one classifies certain music as mainstream or alternative, and certain music as good or bad. Or at the very least, not as good as the good music. This is what music obsessives and critics do. There is no inherent value to any piece of art - despite endless arguments about aesthetics and high/low culture, the value is in what a piece means to people. Having said that, people, especially obsessives, classify and judge people by their tastes, and I think that most people align themselves with those of similar tastes and proclivities. It may not be guaranteed that I will not become friends with someone who loves Il Divo, obsessively watches hockey, or reads a lot of romance novels, but if they do all three, that likelihood increases along with the probability that I will not be able to have a very long conversation with him/her. That is how taste functions.

According to others, my suggestion that Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah was better than Alexandra Burke's is deeply flawed. Oddly enough, it's flawed because some of the people who commented see Buckley in the same light as Burke: singers whose cover versions released on a major label. Fair enough; however, I would argue that despite being on a label aiming to sell as many albums as possible, Buckley still comes at the song from an entirely different angle, and though time can be the only judge, I think Buckley's version is the timeless, unique one. Anyhow, at the heart of my previous argument was not some objective truth about who produced the best version of Hallelujah - it was about how each version made me feel. I acknowledge it's a completely subjective stance, but everything is subjective. No, no one put a gun to my head to listen to Burke's version, but I thought it was only fair to listen to it and then make a judgement rather than follow a knee-jerk reaction to an X-Factor cover of a classic song. It just so happens I truly didn't get anything out of Burke's version and I felt like her's missed the point of the song. I don't believe that Cohen's song is meant to be a schmaltzy power ballad.

I would also like to impress upon people that I do not love Buckley and his music because he drowned in a river in his 20s, nor even because he had the range of Pavarotti; I love his music because it means something to me and because it feels as though it meant something to him. Since I value Buckley's music independent of others' opinions about it, I could have cared less if Buckley ever made it back into the charts for Christmas or any other time; rather, I just think it's a little sad that the masses seem to enjoy stampeding without really thinking and without a real point (it's like everyone buying a copy of The Secret, the book on positive thinking that was preposterously popular a couple years ago, only to have the remainder forgotten in the bargain bin a few months later). Additionally, it's interesting that it seems Buckley's own post-humous fame and martyrdom have appeared to make him, on some level, just as mainstream as Burke, and now it gains someone more subcultural capital to reference Kathryn Williams. I had actually not been aware of Williams nor her version, but upon listening to her Hallelujah, I like it, especially for the fragility I think the song requires, but I will still never love it the way I do Buckley's. And that is merely an issue of taste, ergo, I will not think those who prefer Williams' version to Buckley's are snobs.

Some of my detractors claimed that I sounded like them when they were teenagers; this response makes me wonder whether expressing a critical opinion is only for the young. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't all that critical of the music industry as a teen; in fact, I rode wave after wave of Top 40 pop and rock for a few solid years (most music fans and friends I know now wouldn't have even talked to me then). Looking back at myself during that period actually confuses me because I cannot really connect with 90% of the music I loved then, and I often try to understand what kind of person I was and why I made the choices I did. All I can conclude is that I was still looking around and trying on different ideas and tastes to see what stuck, and like many adolescents, I was often influenced by my closest friends or the most immediate media sources. And maybe I had a pretty sheltered, naive outlook longer than others might have. Admittedly, I also never thought too much about what I was consuming, a realization that makes me much more aware now; life experience changes perceptions, and along with them, taste. As I aged, I kept growing and formulating my personality, and eventually, I ended up with what I would call my taste foundation - I may continue to shift and add to/subtract from the specifics that lie on top, but I don't think I will ever discard or waver from that established core of preferences in music, books, and films. I will never love a Shopaholic book, nor will I ever stop loving the Manic Street Preachers (the latter being a preference that is rarely fashionable).

For the most part, I don't bother raging against taste quibbles with the NME, Top 40 radio, or even MTV; when I do complain, my beef with them usually comes in with the amount and/or variety of music they deal with. And even then, my rants come in sporadic spurts as I negotiate some kind of bi-monthly bile. Most of the time I write about what I like in the hopes that I might expose someone else to something he/she may also like, and sometimes I might actually entertain at the same time - it just so happens I'm often at my most entertaining when I'm ranting. To rail against entities I don't even usually partake in seems pretty futile when I keep this blog as a hobby.

As for the counterarguments against a perceived connection between being comfortable and having a crap taste in music, I'd like to clarify here: I said that the news story I was watching connected economic crisis with comfortable music purchases, and in fact, I didn't agree with that assessment. I stated that the majority of people buying mass-marketed music purchase out of comfort nearly all of the time, regardless of economic situation. There's no doubt that economic crises often incite very artistic music; believe me, I'm well aware of the history of punk, post-punk/new wave, etc., and social circumstances shape music just like they do any other art form. However, in making the argument that it was significant that people were pushing music like that of the Sex Pistols into the Top Ten, one is already making a value judgement about music - in essence, that the Sex Pistols and punk (or Blondie, The Pretenders, et al) are better than some other type of music, including what can be termed "pop" music. The people pushing certain well-known bands and their albums into the top are often people who might only buy a few CDs in a year, and who spend their time on things other than searching for music beyond mass media sources. They are what I would consider casual music fans or listeners in contrast with the music fanatic category, in which many music bloggers fall into. Perhaps it was errant to call the latter category "real" music fans in my earlier post; I was trying to get at the fact that those who take a much more active and/or obsessive interest in music -and, thus, in looking harder for music that doesn't get advertised or marketed the same way popular music does - need alternative channels, which I firmly believe the Internet has allowed for. The music industry is changing slowly but surely, and as a music fan, I want to be part of that rather than support a dead horse that is beating itself to death.

I would also like to address the fact that it seems people think I equate people who like mainstream music to slobbering, acquiescent idiots. I apologize if that's how it came across; there's no point making generalizations in the first place - there will always be numerous exceptions to a rule and reams of anecdotal evidence. I do think that a more general attitude towards being comfortable can be affected by smaller acts of comfort and complacency that reach a critical mass. Having read too much Neil Postman and Aldous Huxley, I can't just perceive entertainment as innocuous anymore, and all I really want is for people to think more and to take a less passive role in the information, including entertainment, they consume. What my whole issue with Christmas number ones, X-Factor and mass market music all boils down to is the predictability of it all. I will always view complacency and aversion to new things as stifling, and in some political cases, a dangerous thing. There's a time to unwind and feel mindless, and maybe exposing the inner machinations and manufactured hype of the music industry in reality shows like X-Factor is actually some new form of Pop Art or the television equivalent of the Pompidou Centre, but my fear is that too many people never think about it that way and that too many would rather stay in a state of amused mindlessness all the time.

Should I never express a critical opinion of music I don't like or see value in? I hope not. Ultimately, we're all a little hypocritical when discussing snobbery because having opinions and interests that you feel strongly about will inevitably pit you against other people with strong opinions and interests, and in pitting yourself against someone else, you are attempting to argue that your choice is superior to another's. If you don't have any opinions or interests, you're likely not going to be accused of being a snob, but then again, you won't have much of a personality either. There's also a part of me that thinks music fans, or fans of any sort, enjoy bantering over obscure trivia and feeling different from those who would never understand. I'm not and never will be one of the "cool" kids (any glance between my blog and countless other more popular ones will tell you that), but I don't aspire to be. If there is anything negative attached to hipsterdom, it's the artificiality of it - pretending to be or like things you don't just to appear either forward-thinking or cool. I'm wary of hype not because I'm afraid of looking like an unoriginal bandwagon jumper, nor because I worry about looking out-of-step with hipsters, but because I've been disappointed too many times and sometimes time is the only thing that can provide me with clarity. And at the very least, I'd like to be honest about my tastes. In the end, I'm glad that people challenged me because it made me think a lot harder about what I was trying to say and it helped me refine it.

If loving the music I love or expressing my opinions in the way I do make me a music snob or an elitist, then I'll just have to accept that. And after all, the beauty of the Internet is the fact that you have choice, so in the event I'm too offensive, you definitely don't have an obligation to read my blog or listen to the music I post. Hopefully, the one thing we can all agree on is that we take music seriously. In some cases, too seriously.

And as for my choice of diction in the earlier post...artless and artificial are not actually redundant when the former means without skill or finesse and the latter means manufactured or insincere. But there's no point nitpicking, is there?

Hipsters Are the New Jocks! - MESH

Cool Scene - The Dandy Warhols

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #47

After a small break, here's both the first post of 2009 and the first weekly mix of 2009. Because the last mix was a New Year's firecracker, this week's compilation is more about catching up on sleep after the holidays and the partying (okay, maybe I didn't exactly fill my holidays with partying, but I definitely stayed up late watching my A Bit of Fry and Laurie box set for several nights). This mix can be the antidote for your credit hangover headaches, or hangover headaches of the more conventional kind. Or this mix can act as a cure for those of you out there who are insomniacs. Although, when the temperature dips to -34 Celsius (which it is at the time of writing this), sometimes all you want to do is slow your heart rate to that of one comatose and hibernate until spring.

This mix takes in several mellow, dream-inducing genres like shoegaze, twee and ambient, and it encompasses the tinkling music box sounds that begin this compilation, including M83, Emilie Simon and soundtrack work from both Yann Tiersen and Trevor Jones; the light acoustics from Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Brett Anderson and Lanterns on the Lake; the soothing, twee pop of The Brunettes, The Bridal Shop and Camera Obscura; and the semi-aquatic murmurs of The Daysleepers, Japan, and Mazzy Star. This one is called Lullaby. Sweet dreams.

Violet Tree - M83

Chanson de Toile - Emilie Simon

La Valse d'Amelie (Orchestra Version) - Yann Tiersen

Sarah - Trevor Jones

Stay Awake - Asobi Seksu

Somewhere Around Here - Chairlift

Hope, You Know - Celestial

Chinese Whispers - Brett Anderson

Leave My Dreaming - Gorky's Zygotic Mynci

I Love You, Sleepyhead - Lanterns on the Lake

Wall Poster Star - The Brunettes

Marine Thing - The Bridal Shop

A Sister's Social Agony - Camera Obscura

Twilight At Carbon Lake - Deerhunter

Pink Shadow - Mary Goes Round

Falling Sky - Autumn's Grey Solace

Space Whale Migration - The Daysleepers

The Experience of Swimming - Japan

Nothing Ever Dies - The Starlets

Andvari - Sigur Ros

Coast is Clear - Windermere

Not a Number - Apparat

Umbilical - Mazzy Star