Friday, March 27, 2009
Well, after fifteen months of recording my musings, rants and rambles about music here, it's officially moving day. As some of you know, I decided to move my blog because I finally got one of my posts taken down by Blogger this past Monday. As irritating and frustrating as trying to set up my blog at its new location on Wordpress was, I felt it was something I had to do in order to keep some of my autonomy. And maybe make a bit of a statement in the process. I think there's enough of the new blog in place for me to direct readers and subscribers to it now. There may still be some bugs and glitches as I get familiar with it, and there will be a bit of me that misses this old design for ridiculously sentimental reasons, but I know that in the long run this will be the right decision. I haven't yet decided if I will just delete this blog entirely, or if I will let it lay here like a corpse until Blogger picks it clean. Either way, I know the best is yet to come, and I thank all those who pledged their support.
Please come and join me at http://condemnedtorocknroll.wordpress.com/...
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Well, the Manics have finally come out of Rockfield studio and officially announced the release date and details of their next album, Journal For Plague Lovers. They will be releasing the 13-track LP featuring Richey's unused lyrics on May 18, and it will apparently be available on CD, deluxe double CD, vinyl and download. In keeping with the effort to recall their masterpiece, The Holy Bible, Journal For Plague Lovers features cover art from Jenny Saville. Reading track names like Jackie Collins Existential Question Time, Me and Stephen Hawking, Pretension/Repulsion, and Virginia State Epileptic Colony has gotten me very excited, indeed. Although it still remains to be seen whether the music will do the words justice. Or even if the words live up to the memory. I can't wait to find out, though.
In honour of the album's release, the Manics are doing a small tour of the UK (at least considerably smaller than they did for Send Away The Tigers) as follows:
Mon 25th - Barrowlands, Glasgow
Tue 26th - Venue Cymru Arena, Llandudno
Thu 28th - Camden Roundhouse, London
Fri 29th - Camden Roundhouse, London
Sat 30th - Camden Roundhouse, London
Mon 1st - Civic Hall, Wolverhampton
Tue 2nd - Dome, Brighton
Thu 4th - Olympia, Dublin
Sat 6th - Ulster Hall, Belfast
Motown Junk (Johnny Boy Anniversary Mix) - Manic Street Preachers
Die in the Summertime (Demo) - Manic Street Preachers
Monday, March 23, 2009
Well, after 15 months of no hassle, I've received my first DMCA takedown notice from Blogger. Of course, the offending post has already been taken down by Blogger, so it's more of a notice to tell you it's gone rather than a notice to tell you to take it down. The post that was deleted was a weekly mix from last August, long dead links and all. Even more bizarrely, this mix featured only cover versions and many of them were by artists that I've featured several times over. I know this because I took precautions several months ago and saved all of my previous posts to a Word document. At this point, all of these details aren't even important. The real issue is one that I've talked about ad nauseum before. It's frustrating because my own arguments and those of other intelligent people don't have any effect. It's the same reason I felt frustrated when I went to see RiP: A Remixer's Manifesto yesterday.
The Brett Gaylor documentary was fantastic, but it essentially said everything I've already been thinking and discussing with others for the past few years. According to the film, the Remixer's Manifesto is thus:
1. Culture always builds on the past.
2. The past always tries to control the future.
3. Our future is becoming less free.
4. To build free societies you must limit the control of the past.
There were some really brilliant juxtapositions in the film as Gaylor demonstrates his points (one of my favourites was how he traces the use and/or evolution of a traditional folk/blues song/hook, The Last Time, through The Rolling Stones, The Verve and ultimately to its use by Girl Talk - the point being only The Rolling Stones did the suing within this process despite the fact they weren't the original authors either). In the end, the process of the film is more important than its end product (Eno, anyone?), and the style of the documentary itself proves its point about remixing art and culture to provoke new ideas and enjoyment; without building on the past, progress is stifled and stagnant. Gaylor draws the battle lines clearly: you're either on the Copy Right or the Copy Left, you're either stuck in the past or looking to the future. He even put up his raw footage online to allow others to participate in an open source way. Oddly enough, Stanford law professor, Lawrence Lessig said things in the documentary that I wrote in that older post nearly verbatim, most particularly in the area of not being able to create in a vacuum and in his using the example of citations in essays and books. But neither of us owns the "right" to those thoughts.
With the advent of the Internet, the public domain has grown infinitely and beyond the conservative, stunted thinking of those in power. Trying to lock people up and shut them down will continue to be a futile exercise. I know I'm not doing anything wrong, yet having my own "intellectual property" deleted without my permission is legally sound because Google, a $31 billion company, owns Blogger, my current blog host. Talk about media control and strangle holds. How do you google Google? It's the philosophical question of the Noughties. What kind of information are you going to get about the company when they're the primary method for your search?
Here's the notice I received today:
Blogger has been notified, according to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that certain content in your blog infringes upon the copyrights of others. The URL(s) of the allegedly infringing post(s) may be found at the end of this message.
The notice that we received from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the record companies it represents, with any personally identifying information removed, will be posted online by a service called Chilling Effects at http://www.chillingeffects.org. We do this in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Please note that it may take Chilling Effects up to several weeks to post the notice online at the link provided.
The IFPI is a trade association that represents over 1,400 major and independent record companies in the US and internationally who create, manufacture and distribute sound recordings (the "IFPI Represented Companies").
The DMCA is a United States copyright law that provides guidelines for online service provider liability in case of copyright infringement. We are in the process of removing from our servers the links that allegedly infringe upon the copyrights of others. If we did not do so, we would be subject to a claim of copyright infringement, regardless of its merits. See http://www.educause.edu/Browse/645?PARENT_ID=254 for more information about the DMCA, and see http://www.google.com/dmca.html for the process that Blogger requires in order to make a DMCA complaint.
Blogger can reinstate these posts upon receipt of a counter notification pursuant to sections 512(g)(2) and 3) of the DMCA. For more information about the requirements of a counter notification and a link to a sample counter notification, see http://www.google.com/dmca.html#counter. Please note that repeated violations to our Terms of Service may result in further remedial action taken against your Blogger account. If you have legal questions about this notification, you should retain your own legal counsel. If you have any other questions about this notification, please let us know.
The Blogger Team
My favourite bit is the part "regardless of its merits."
I refuse to be intimidated (in many ways, what Blogger is doing is like someone breaking into your apartment and stealing your possessions - and it's not even like I'm keeping my door locked, so to speak), and I'm not going to sit back and let them slowly dismantle my free speech in the "public" domain. So, CTRR is moving house as soon as possible. I don't care how much work it will be to get this blog back up on my own and on my own terms. Bear with me while I plant my flag in the Copy Left. I'll keep you posted.
Don't Stop - Girl Talk
We're Not Gonna Take It - Twisted Sister
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #58
I wanna dance with somebody. I'm dancing for my life. Everybody dance now. Everybody cut footloose.
This one's called What a Feeling.
Testcard Girl - White Rose Movement
Bonne Nouvelle - Birdy Nam Nam
Teknoir - Kindle
The Melting Moon - VHS or Beta
25 Seconds (Gary Numan and Ade Fenton Remix) - Mandy Kane
This Rhythm - Filthy Dukes
State of Alert - Radio 4
The Magnificent Romeo - 2 Many DJs
Ares (Villains Remix) - Bloc Party
20th Century Boy - T.Rex (Hoshina Anniversary Remix)
Switchblade - HEARTSREVOLUTION
Into the Galaxy - Midnight Juggernauts
I'm Not Alone - Calvin Harris
I Feel Love - Donna Summer
Boy (Extended Mix) - Book of Love
The DJ's Got a Gun (IAMX Remix) - Robots in Disguise
Turn It On - Ladytron
I Want Nothing - The Black Ghosts
Phantom Pt 2 (Soulwax Remix) - Justice
Extraball - Yuksek
Thursday, March 19, 2009
As last year, I will not be able to attend the music lover's paradise, South by Southwest, and will have to explore the roster of artists from the swivel chair in front of my laptop (if I spin around fast enough every so often, I can attempt to simulate the dizziness brought on by wanting to see so many bands at once). Once again, there are many bands and artists that I already know about and love performing in Austin, including Echo & the Bunnymen, Camera Obscura, The Blue Aeroplanes, Wild Beasts, Mother Mother, Calvin Harris, Bishi, Booka Shade, Boys Noize, Chairlift, The Guggenheim Grotto, Ladyhawke, Okkervil River, MSTRKRFT, New York Dolls, Slow Club, Peter, Bjorn and John, Radio 4, Descartes a Kant, Future of the Left, HEARTSREVOLUTION, Max Tundra, Peter Murphy, Titus Andronicus, Voxtrot, Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, Peter Broderick, The Duke Spirit, Fight Like Apes, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Shout Out Out Out Out, We Have Band, Primal Scream, Ra Ra Riot, The Twelves, We Should Be Dead, Asobi Seksu, Cut Off Your Hands, and Au Revoir Simone; however, I would rather explore some bands that I'm not familiar with and pass them on to you. After all, among my choices last year were The Indelicates and Bodies of Water, two bands that made it into my Top 40 Albums of 2008. Let's try to find some fantastic ones again, shall we? (As intriguing as they are, we are going to steer clear of Futomoto Satisfaction, a Japanese, all-female trombone band in bikinis - I'm sure you'll understand.)
Kamikaze Queens: Punk. Cabaret. Berlin. How could this band not attract my attention? For those of us who enjoy a spot of dark cabaret like Dresden Dolls, Nina Hagen and Lou Reed's aptly titled album Berlin, but also like the scrappy flavour of New York Dolls and The Ramones, Kamikaze Queens are a perfect fit.
Voluptuous Panic - Kamikaze Queens
M.A.N.D.Y.: Also, from Berlin, electronic duo, M.A.N.D.Y. caught my ears. On the same Get Physical label as their friends Booka Shade, they produce clean, staccato soundscapes with a cool elegance and have produced tight, minimalistic remixes for the likes of Sugababes, Tiefschwarz, Roxy Music and The Knife and a compilation for Fabric. I hope that they soon release a debut of their own.
I Feel Space - Lindstrom (M.A.N.D.Y. Remix)
Parenthetical Girls: Portland, Oregon's Parenthetical Girls are one of those experimental, but accessible, chamber pop bands that I can't help but fall in love with. Having released their debut record three years ago, they have now released their sophomore effort, Entanglements, and they remind me of artists like Simon Bookish, who employ classical compositional theory to create a quirky, intellectually-satisfying pop music. They describe Entanglements as an "orchestral song cycle of grand sonic ambition [...] an eleven-song, linear narrative of ascendancy, adolescent sexuality, quantum mechanics, consent, and other moral ambiguities - all set to an elaborately orchestrated olio of Modern Classical and timeworn, traditional American pop forms." Any band who can inspire the use of "olio" is the band for me.
A Song For Ellie Greenwich - Parenthetical Girls
The Week That Was: If you thought that the description from Parenthetical Girls was impressive, take a look at this one from The Week That Was, the musical side project from Peter Brewis, the brother of School of Language's David Brewis: "The songs are the evidence in this particular mystery and the victims, perpetrators and onlookers raise questions with concerns familiar to us all. How do we deal with the fragments of information we receive through the television, radio, the internet? How do we balance the distrust we feel for mass media with our dependence on it? How does this relationship influence our hopes and actions in our real lives? And finally, what would happen if we decided not to deal with it anymore and switched off the information flow by throwing away our TVs, radios and newspapers? The anger, confusion and sorrow details the week of Peter’s own enforced switch off." What's even more brilliant is that the music effectively carries the narrative and lives up to the philisophical musings. All of this just proves that the Brewis brothers are just as powerful on their own as they are together.
Learn to Learn - The Week That Was
Efterklang: This Danish "folktronica" band lives up to their fanciful name, which rings like magic in my ears (it actually means "remembrance" or "reverberation" in Danish); their music, too, lingers long after you've listened to it. There's something Sufjan Stevens-like about their sound, but there's also that ethereal Scandinavian influence blowing like wind chimes through it. Playful, atmospheric, and whimsical, Efterklang can shift from mincing glockenspiel to fuzzy, muted brass and turn their beautiful fantasy world upside down and inside out with infinite permutations. Flying too close to the clouds must sound like Efterklang.
Mirador - Efterklang
School of Seven Bells: Comprised of Benjamin Curtis of Secret Machines and identical twins Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, formerly of On! Air! Library!, School of Seven Bells is a dreamy, pulsing affair. The twins' vocals are mesmerizing and the musical backdrop is built from a skittering, fluid energy that breaks itself apart only to reassemble into self-healed tears of mercury. Drawing influences from various styles, including Eastern and Afrobeat flavours, School of Seven Bells is ranging through a musical palette with a true artist's abandon, producing astounding results.
Half Asleep - School of Seven Bells
SXSW Web site: www.sxsw.com
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I happened to be strolling through MySpace rounds today and ended up on Patrick Wolf's MySpace. The latest profile photo was Wolf in what appears to be S&M gear, and his forthcoming single, Vulture, the first to be released from his upcoming album, was on the player. Okay, I admit I don't have time to keep tabs on every musician in a consistent fashion, so I didn't realize until today that Wolf's forthcoming album, Battle, is now split into two companion discs called The Bachelor and The Conqueror, respectively, with the former releasing this June and the latter dropping next year. I should probably keep up with these things since I've become an investor in the album (Wolf's team have found a way for non-UK residents to invest via Tribe Wolf InterNational [TWIN] - see here for details).
The S&M gear in the photograph was soon made clear to me as I read one of the blog posts, which read:
The video for Patrick Wolf’s new single ‘Vulture’ will be shown as a late night exclusive on MySpace UK this Wednesday 18th and Thursday 19th March, 9pm-4am.
Deemed too provocative for even late night TV, MySpace are promoting the video as an exclusive post watershed in the late night hours, due to its graphic content.
Filmed in black & white, photographic style, it shows an enraptured, semi naked Patrick writhing in a full S&M, bondage outfit. The controversial scenes are intercut with those of Patrick as the leather clad ‘Vulture’ and as an unmasked icon. Inspired by experiences Patrick gained and suffered on the American leg of the 2007 'Magic Position' tour, the video perfectly depicts these experiences, which Patrick describes as ‘getting involved in some dodgy satanic sex games and exploring the many dark sides of Los Angeles.’
I duly waited until the time came to watch it, and I've embedded it above. I'm sure CTRR readers are mature enough to handle it at any time of the day. Especially since I find absolutely nothing shocking about it. This either says that I'm hugely desensitized to bondage gear and/or sexual fetishes, which may very well be true. Or this says that the hype building up the video was merely hype and a brilliant PR tactic to get people to watch it. After all, how can watershed time restrictions work online? This is not to say that the video wasn't creatively conceived and beautifully shot - the black and white photography and dramatic lighting produce a video worthy of any of Wolf's best. Wolf, who directed the video himself, has managed to incorporate an old-time glamour and German Expressionist style that is highly watchable. It's just no more shocking than the uncensored Girls on Film video from Duran Duran or Richey Edwards and Nicky Wire rolling all over each other while wearing g-strings in the video for Love's Sweet Exile.
The single itself points to yet another direction for Wolf, especially in light of the cheerful, gypsy energy of his last album, but it still makes sense within the context of his entire body of work. There were songs on his debut Lycanthropy that were much more graphic than Vulture and its connotations, and several of them employed esoteric noise and electronic elements to provide a shadowy side to the songs' narratives; The Childcatcher still gives me chills. And even his sophomore album, Wind in the Wires, had Tristan, a stomping electro beast that remains one of my favourites in the repertoire.
Wolf's strengths have always been connected to his ability to tell fantastic stories through eclectic sounds and his ever-evolving image. As I stated before, Wolf manages to balance between a fairytale-like innocence and a dangerous eroticism; he is a gambolling sprite one moment and a violent satyr the next. Perhaps the most startling thing about Vulture is how it wrenches us away from the mythical, escapist worlds that Wolf has built over the past few years and plunges us into a gritty reality, which, while no more disturbing than some of Wolf's fantasy scenarios, can be initially unsettling. Unlike previous compositions, Vulture is unrelenting in its modernity - there are no pastoral movements, gypsy reels or folk elements. It is all drum machines, squeals and electronic beeps and blips, but at the same time, Wolf's distinctive voice adds a sense of magic and mystery, and the brilliant vulture imagery carries this story and the music video. If anything, there's less darkness here than a camp sensibility - Wolf plays the part to the hilt in the video.
No matter which direction Patrick Wolf chooses to head in, you can rest assured it will be fresh and uncompromising. No matter the role, Wolf is his own master.
Vulture is released as a download and on 7" vinyl on April 20.
The Childcatcher - Patrick Wolf
The Tower - Patrick Wolf
Monday, March 16, 2009
I stumbled across London-based, self-proclaimed "crap novelty punk" band The New Royal Family through the incestuous web of MySpace - it could have been through the Luxembourg page or The Melting Ice Caps or...I can't completely remember. At any rate, I'm glad I found them because they are punk in all its provocative and fancy dress glory; they retain that original spirit of punk that was provocative for provocation's sake and too difficult for irony to pin down and flatten. Featuring a revolving line-up of former members of bands like Gay Dad, The Boyfriends, Linus and Luxembourg (not to mention someone who used to drum for The Monochrome Set), the New Royal Family is now releasing a triple b-side to follow up their sold-out limited edition 7" Anyone Fancy a Chocolate Digestive?, and it continues the line of raucous, ludicrous (ludiraucous?) songs. There's a bit of the Art Brut spirit about them, and their jesting veneer, like all jesting veneers, covers the cleverness beneath.
This triple b-side (or at least the disc I have - the discs come with different, random track orders) kicks off with Scotland The Brave, a song that borrows heavily from The Damned's New Rose and early Adam and the Ants while David Barnett's sneering vocals deliver a slew of nonsensical, vaguely Scottish-related lyrics, including the line "Bonny Scotland where's your kilts?." The next track, That Girl Has Got It, starts off deceptively gentle and slow before launching into an appropriately speedier frenzy while the innuendo escalates - "That girl has got it in her hand/What's she going to do now?" to "That girl has got it in her mouth/What's she going to do now?." The disc concludes with The New Royal Family Rules Okay, which bops about in a Ramonesesque fashion and is my favourite track of the three. The chorus says "Rules are unspoken/Rules are meant to be broken," a lyric that sums up The New Royal Family quite nicely.
You can download the triple-track single for free here, but only for a limited time. And if you want them as a VERY limited CD single in a random variety of sleeves and running orders along with a free badge, you can purchase one for just £2 - email
firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how. Above all, The New Royal Family are fun and they do as they please. I'd pick them over Elizabeth and her glorified welfare family any day.
New Royal Family MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/thenewroyalfamily
The New Royal Family Rules Okay - The New Royal Family
Anyone Fancy a Chocolate Digestive? - The New Royal Family
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #57
As I did last year, I will attempt an Irish mix in honour of St. Patrick's Day. The issue is that I usually find that I don't have too much Irish music in my collection. And then I have to pad it with someone like Van Morrison, someone that I never listen to. Nonetheless, I feel like I managed to cobble together a pretty decent mix this year. It ranges from the old (Virgin Prunes, The Pogues, The Stars of Heaven, Whipping Boy) to the new (The Japanese Popstars, Fight Like Apes, The Guggenheim Grotto, Halves, One Day International) to somewhere in between (Ash, The Frank and Walters, JJ72). JJ72's frontman, Mark Greaney, even makes a second appearance with his new band Concerto For Constantine.
This one's called Emerald Audiophile.
B.C.T.T. - The Japanese Popstars
Twenty Tens - Virgin Prunes
Wasps - Concerto For Constantine
Kung Fu - Ash
Jake Summers - Fight Like Apes
Forget Romance, Let's Dance - We Should Be Dead
The Sunnyside of the Street - The Pogues
After All - The Frank and Walters
What Else Could You Do? - The Stars of Heaven
Fee Da Da Dee - The Guggenheim Grotto
Blinded - Whipping Boy
Pride (In the Name of Love) - U2
Glimmer - JJ72
Blown A Wish - My Bloody Valentine
Kansas (Yellow Brick Road Mix) - The Hedge Schools
Little Death - One Day International
Lille - Lisa Hannigan
A Bear in the Hermitage - Sunken Foal
Medals - Halves
Hands Swollen With Grace - Dakota Suite
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
I've read a fair amount of band/artist biographies with varying amounts of interest(oddly enough, as much as I love the band Pulp, their 400-page biography by Mark Sturdy was one of the hardest to conquer). I stumbled upon Michael Bracewell's 2007 biography of Roxy Music, Re-Make/Re-Model: Becoming Roxy Music, by accident while looking for other Michael Bracewell books. You see, I quite like Bracewell's ideas and style; I've read both England is Mine: Pop Life in Albion from Wilde to Goldie and When Surface Was Depth: Death by Cappuccino and Other Reflections on Music and Culture in the 1990's, which both gave me fascinating intertextual insights into popular culture from vastly different angles. The former probes various aspects of Englishness from arcadia to suburbia via John Betjeman, Lindsay Anderson films and The Cure while the latter discussed the atmosphere of the 90s, including a shift from irony to "authenticity" and the gentrification of the avant-garde, and explored topics from Britpop to Howard Devoto to the Millennium Dome to American pop group, Hanson. These earlier works point to Bracewell's intelligent wit and extensive research, aspects which definitely infuse Re-Make/Re-Model.
The key difference with Bracewell's take on Roxy Music's biography, or the band biography genre in general, is that he strictly focuses on the way the band came about; once the band gains a record deal and creates their self-titled first album, the book ends. By the way, this book is nearly 400 pages long. And I finished it in a few days. The difference between this book and that massive history of Pulp is the almost academic take on the ideas, art and socio-historical forces that shaped the band and their music. This book isn't about a meticulous chronology of singles, albums and gigs, power struggles, band member departures, and outrageous gossip. This book isn't about a band's personal relationships as such; it's more about the constellation of people and ideas that provided the perfect conditions to create such a unique band which took high and low art and married them with a camp aesthetic.
The book is divided into three main sections: Newcastle 1953-1968, Reading, Ipswich, Winchester 1964-1969, and London 1968-1972. In doing this, Bracewell can thoroughly discuss the milieus from which Bryan Ferry, Andy Mackay and Brian Eno emerged, parallel them, and then join them up in the final section. Of course there are plenty of interviews with the band members themselves, but there are equal amounts, if not more, interviews with people who had contact with the band members, and in effect, "made" Roxy Music as much as Ferry, Mackay and Eno. In the Newcastle section, you learn about the Richard Hamilton-influenced art school concepts that surrounded Ferry and his fellow students, including Rita Donagh, who eventually ended up teaching at Reading University where Andy Mackay was studying English and Music. Hamilton and his postmodern pastiche, Pop Art ideas and Duchampian aesthetics become clear foundations for Roxy Music's borrowing from an eclectic, extensive palette for both their music and their image. But in addition to these high art philosophies, Ferry and his colleagues were equally exposed to Club A-Go-Go, a venue that held lunchtime dances for Newcastle's working class, and the social significance of mod clothing at Marcus Price.
The second section shows how ideas migrated and cross-pollinated between the art schools in Newcastle, Reading and Ipswich, taking in Andy Mackay and Brian Eno's pieces of the Roxy Music story. In the process, Bracewell emphasizes the similarities between Brian Eno's concern for process over product and the theories being practiced in both Newcastle and Reading. While Eno's new, postmodern attitude toward art almost got him kicked out of Winchester School of Art, it demonstrated a new way of approaching both art and music, thus creating unexpected art that wouldn't have occurred any other way. At the same time, at Reading, art students were being exposed to Armenian philosopher, Gurdjieff, who came up with the concept of "self re-membering," a philosophy that says you can create your own being. Through Hamilton's emphasis on Duchamp, the future members of Roxy Music and their milieu learned "art can be anything," and through Gurdjieff, they learned that "you can be anything"; the combination of these two ideologies took their subcultural activities to the mainstream and provided a foundation for what would eventually be termed "glam rock," a deliberately artificial construct. This is also the section of the book that introduces you to the Moodies, the Reading-based, pop art performance group that pre-figured punk, and the avant-garde "happenings" occurring in and around Reading, which are both elements that contributed to how Roxy Music ended up fusing the mass market appeal of pop and glamour with high art consciousness, and more practically, how Mackay came to meet Eno.
The final section of the book, which is likely where most biographers would start the bulk of their story, ties all the ends up in London, where all of Roxy Music's members finally converge in the midst of new, outrageous fashion from the likes of Ossie Clark, Antony Price, Pamla Motown, and Eno's then-girlfirend, Carol McNicholl; inventive, entrepreneurial hairstyling from Keith Wainwright; and decadent, poetic PR from post-graduate Romantic Literature student Simon Puxley. This steaming soup of embryonic ideas and creative businesses provided the perfect environment for the birth of Roxy Music. Interestingly enough, Roxy Music was initially perceived as emerging too fully-formed by music journalists and critics - to them, apparently Roxy Music hadn't paid their dues in previous music scenes like David Bowie. But if I learned anything from the book, it's how much went into creating the success and critical acclaim behind Roxy Music. They truly were the product of their postwar times and paid their dues in multiple, eclectic arenas outside of the music scene itself, making for one of the most interesting bands of all time.
In terms of writing talent and knowledge, Michael Bracewell is already heads above many other music writers (Morrissey has called him "the most adroitly gifted writer of our generation"); he writes the types of books I need to come back to again and again just to comprehend the full meaning and scope of what he places under the same umbrella. He's brilliant at unravelling pop culture's seemingly seamless tapestry and re-weaving it into a web you never would have expected. With his obvious knowledge of both pop culture and academic theory, he was the perfect biographer for this band, which represented both facets simultaneously. Not only did this book give me a fantastic insight into the people who made up Roxy Music and their music, but it made me think and learn. I fully acknowledge that most bands wouldn't warrant this kind of biography nor stand up with this kind of cerebral analysis; however, the fact that Roxy Music does makes them all the more significant a collection of true artists. In effect, Bracewell takes Eno's process over product philosophy and applies it to the band itself, showing that the process itself can be a work of art.
Re-Make/Re-Model - Roxy Music
Ladytron - Roxy Music
Monday, March 9, 2009
I've been a fan of T.Rex and Marc Bolan since the last year of high school. My introduction to T.Rex wasn't the most auspicious: I first heard T.Rex songs while sitting in the movie theatre watching Billy Elliot. I remembered the soundtrack long after the film itself. Since then, I had picked up T.Rex tracks here and there and several years ago, I purchased a rather comprehensive compilation album. However, I just never got around to buying any of the T.Rex or Tyrannosaurus Rex albums proper. Then just a few weeks back, while I was browsing in a used music store, I found Electric Warrior. Released in 1971, the Tony Visconti-produced Electric Warrior was the second album under the re-vamped T.Rex name and it's the one that took Marc Bolan into the mainstream with hits like Bang a Gong (Get It On) and Jeepster.
It's no secret that Marc Bolan wasn't the most original musician or songwriter in the world; he essentially adapted old rock 'n roll for a new audience and had the ability to create snappy pop songs rather quickly. In fact, he ambitiously managed to adapt and reinvent himself through several subcultures including mod and folk-psychedelia. However, this doesn't take into account the other side of Bolan's music. While I enjoy the energy, sexy swagger and fun of songs like Jeepster, Bang a Gong (Get It On) and The Motivator, my favourite song on Electric Warrior is Cosmic Dancer, a song that has haunted me ever since I first heard it over the opening credits of Billy Elliot.
There is something beautifully sad about it with its mournful, yet soaring, acoustic guitar and string arrangement and the distinctive, magical quaver of Bolan's voice. It's wistful and tragic, but the tragedy remains veiled and not immediately apparent - there's something in the music and Bolan's vocal performance that lead me there without the lyrics being particularly dark. And while I could read Bolan's own untimely death into the sound now, I didn't know anything about that when I first heard it all those years ago, yet I remember shivering with the emotion of the song in the movie theatre. There's something of the lonely outsider in the song as well with the lines "Is it strange to dance so soon?" and "Is it strange to dance so late?" - it's a similar alien, dream-like darkness to that of Bowie's Space Oddity. The womb and tomb become interchangable refuges of void and free-fall.
This inexplicable sadness finds its way into other tracks like Girl, which reads:
High in your fields above earth
Come and be real for us
You with your mind
Oh yes you are
Electric witch you are
Limp in society's ditch you are
Oh yes you are
But mentally dying
Just like a boat you are
Sunk but somehow you float you do
Oh yes you are
But so much you speak
Or on Life's a Gas:
I could have loved you girl
Like a planet
I could have chained your heart
To a star
But it really doesn't matter at all
But it really doesn't matter at all
Life's a gas
I hope it's gonna to last
It seems that these songs, in strong contrast to the jaunty, brash sexuality and hedonistic party attitude of the majority of Bolan's hits, reflect an awareness of transience and deceptive surfaces. In many ways, it seems Bolan was waiting for the other shoe to drop; he had carefully crafted his image his entire life, and there was always a chance it would slip and he would drown in his own reflection. Ultimately, that did happen, but at least Bolan briefly recovered before his death. Maybe the reason Cosmic Dancer crawls into my brain so thoroughly is because of my life-long inherent sense of nothing lasting and the bittersweet romance and regret over that.
Electric Warrior can be seen as the genesis of glam rock, but Bolan's re-imagining of 50s rock 'n roll chord changes, blues and acoustic folk paired with his nonsensical, fantastical lyrics and unparalleled vocal style, and burnished with his flamboyant, glitter-pixie image, did indeed change rock music. As much as I will remember him for the dirty-sweet glamour, I will also feel kinship with his sweet sadness.
Cosmic Dancer - T.Rex
Life's a Gas - T.Rex
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #56
I realize St. David's Day was last weekend, but it's never too late for a Welsh mix tape. I've already explained my affinity for Wales and Welshness in the mix post last year. With perfect timing, the Comic Relief single featuring Rob Brydon and Ruth Jones from the brilliant Gavin & Stacey and Sir Tom Jones has just released - it's like Welsh overload (like a sugar rush, but it tastes more like cockles and leeks). I already ordered my copy from Amazon UK (curse international iTunes who won't let you purchase a download from another country). While I wait for it, I will watch the above video over and over again. And maybe that Comic Relief Robert Webb Flashdance performance...if you don't know what I mean, click here. Back to the Welsh theme, I would also recommend watching Rob Brydon's Identity Crisis, a documentary he made about being Welsh for the BBC last year (if you can't find it anywhere, I can upload it for you).
I'm featuring several of the same artists I did last year at this time, including McLusky, The Darling Buds, Gruff Rhys, Melys, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Tom Jones, Scritti Politti, Los Campesinos, and of course, the Manics. However, there are some new ones this time round with Helen Love, Hemme Fatale, The Hot Puppies, The Threatmantics, Sibrydion, Freur, Silver Gospel Runners, Sweet Baboo, Volenté and Cymbient. Also, as an extra special Welsh combo, James Dean Bradfield singing Ready For Drowning accompanied by John Cale. This one's called Bore Da.
Last Exit on Yesterday - Manic Street Preachers
Icarus Smicarus - Mclusky
Does Your Heart Go Booooooom - Helen Love
Extra Sexual Terrestrial - Hemme Fatale
King of England - The Hot Puppies
Sexbomb - Tom Jones and Mousse T.
You'll Need Those Fingers For Crossing - Los Campesinos!
Little Bird - Threatmantics
Desperados - Sibrydion
Shame On You - The Darling Buds
Happiness - Freur
Merched Yn Neud Gwallt Ei Gilydd - Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
Skank Bloc Bologna - Scritti Politti
Gwn Mi Wn - Gruff Rhys
Would You Settle For Less - Silver Gospel Runners
Tom Waits Rip Off - Sweet Baboo
Ready For Drowning - James Dean Bradfield with John Cale
Right Before You - Volenté
Y Dŵr Yn Y Môr - Melys
Time Away With You - Cymbient
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Shoegaze, or as it's also known, dreampop, is one of those genres that when done not so well, is pretty tedious and self-indulgent, but when done really well, can sound more like star gazing than shoegazing. Having said this, I will now introduce two bands who are doing more of the latter than the former: Finnish band Pooma and their debut album, Persuader, and Florida band Kingsbury and their new EP, Lie to Me. While both pieces are captivating, they come at the shoegaze genre from different ends of the spectrum and at different angles of the prism, so to speak.
Pooma's debut was produced and partly mixed by Gunnar Örn Tynes of the fantastic band Múm, and released in Finland last year. Unfortunately the band's Finnish record label was closed down very shortly after the release of the album, but you can still buy the entire album from iTunes if you visit their MySpace (link is provided at the end of the post). Persuader unfolds slowly to an intense beat by beginning with If May Starts Tomorrow, a song punctuated by fingers sliding against guitars strings and hypnotic female vocals. The song then crashes into a torrent of sound, thudding and misting around you like a waterfall. This is followed by Snow, which hums with crystalline strings and cymbals until you are buried in the cool aura of its epicentre. With faster rhythms and a more menancing tone, They Won't Come Back slinks along to a trip-hoppy beat before stripping down halfway through the song into a murmuring, static-filled wormhole; you come out into a fresh second half of the song with tribal rhythms and ethereal vocals. For the next track, Would You, vocals chant "You find it hard to breathe" until you are literally holding your breath in expectation of what happens next in the song; incidentally, it soars into twinkly dreamscapes and builds into an all-encompassing whorl of cloud.
January is a briefer track with subtle cracks of popping vinyl and otherworldly buzzing over simple piano chords; its simplicity is beautiful, and without any vocals, it takes on a brilliant enigmatic quality. Complex layers of sound come back for Through the Calm, which utilizes strings and glockenspiel-like accents to create a dark, undulating atmosphere that takes various unexpected twists and turns between dreamy and threatening; it is like a classical piece heard through an aural kaleidoscope. This blurs right into the title track of the record, a song which builds on the cacophony before disintegrating into a gentle, blissful rivulet of a tune; it takes yet another turn with a build to grandiose proportions with faster drums and dramatic brass. The mood shifts into a more placid one for The Shore, a track that slowly infuses your body like an incense, plying your brain with enchanting vocals. Two minutes before the conclusion of the song, you are woken with scattershot drums and an almost conquistador-like tone. Cool Inside comes down for a heartbeat of a rhythm and shimmers of reverb, an oasis for those sunburned by more abrasive music. The album ends with All Worked Out, the longest song on the record. It takes musicbox-like sounds and layers them over a rich backdrop of cello, creating a magnetic world of small wind storms and aurora borealis.
Kingsbury approaches shoegaze from a different side than Pooma; rather than create textures from shrouded vocals and dramatic symphonic shifts, Kingsbury anchors everything to a plaintive, graceful melodic line and creates a multi-faceted narrative with a rockier edge in the process. You can download the entire EP for free, along with two previous EPs and an album, at their Web site listed below.
EP instrumental opener, Ocarina Mountaintop, is majestic in its slow build of sonic layers with a foundation of piano; it emulates the mystical wistfulness and ancient flavour of the ocarina itself. Vocals come in for Back in the Orange Grove, a track that mimicks mournful wind in laden treetops; metallic knocks and echoes punctuate the ballad like distant thunder, or fists against the walls of a dream. The following track, As I See It, is a delicate tune of guitar arpeggios and hazy, breathy vocals, drifting along like parachutes of dandelion seed.
Bell tones open the next song, Armada, before abrupt pulses and scratches, along with what sounds like thousands of people running moistened fingers around the rims of wine glasses, consume it. The EP's title track moves into a more ominous tone as the narrator works through conflicting emotions about a lover; electric guitars slide and wail through the piece like pleading hands and eyes. It is a moody track that swings to a pendulum of self-induced hypnosis, trying to convince the self that everything will be okay if only the second person will say so. The EP concludes with Holy War a mesmerizing guitar-based track that weaves a mesmerizing spell as tightly-woven as a crusader's tapestry; the tension threatens to break every string until it unravels into a sea of feedback at the end.
Pooma's MySpace: www.myspace.com/poomamusic
Pooma's Web site: http://www.pooma.net/
Kingsbury's MySpace: www.myspace.com/kingsbury
Kingsbury Web site: http://kingsburymusic.net/
If May Starts Tomorrow - Pooma
Through the Calm - Pooma
Ocarina Mountaintop - Kingsbury
Holy War - Kingsbury
Monday, March 2, 2009
After a series of three singles in the last three years, Essex-based Polly Scattergood will finally release her self-titled debut on March 9. She's got all the right quirks in all the right places: she has a perfectly archaic, romantic surname; her album cover image portrays her as an enigmatic, updated Alice in Wonderland; and best of all, her lyrics and music live up to the rest with their candid poetry and dark emotional depths. This album is an expertly crafted document of emotionally-battered mental fabric unravelling thread by golden thread. I can see the comparisons with Kate Bush and Bjork, but she feels refreshingly new and tragically romantic in a different way. This vulnerable record takes on Ophelia-like madness with fists full of flowers and clods of dirt as Scattergood strips her soul to its fractured core.
The album begins with I Hate the Way, a track which released last year as a single. The music hums and clicks lightly beneath Scattergood's captivating, breathy vocals; ominous electronic noises shiver and pulse through the track while she relates the haunting details of an emotionally abusive relationship. About two minutes into the song, electric guitars tear through and elevate the mournful, broken tone into a passionate, mad lucidity, culminating in "doo doo doo's" that are the narrator's answer to "My doctor said I've got to sing a happy tune," the haunting last line before the reverb-laden rap during the last minute of the song. Switching into third person briefly, Other Too Endless is a melodic ode to denial that periodically rumbles with the narrator's quavering emotions, miniature maelstroms threatening to capsize her. The following chorus is repeated several times throughout the track in an infinite spiral: "It can't be real/No, it can't be real/If I close my eyes, then maybe I won't feel/Another too endless/So do you think I should end this?" Backed by teardrops of piano, Untitled 27 opens with ephemeral snatches of "I miss you," "I'm lost," and "Where are you?," like the missives of childish spirits lost in their own static and unresponsive looking-glasses. Scattergood's vocals are ragged through lines like "suicidal tendencies drink creativity," and they reach dizzying heights of heartbreaking desperation as she cries "It hurts to be here."
The tone shifts with Please Don't Touch as broad strokes of acoustic guitar punctuate her staccato, child-like delivery. Hovering between whispers and coos, Scattergood delivers a whimsical, unpredictable performance, enhancing self-reflective lines like "feeling strange and looking rotten"; at the same time, she reveals her contemporary youth with references to "skinny jeans and Pick 'n Mix." The tempo comes back down for the piano-based I Am Strong, a track that delicately dances through a steady stream of reiterated self-declarations in ever-increasing whirls of misty vocals as she tries to shake the witch from her back and reconcile the conflicts in her self-perception.
Beginning with light airiness, Unforgiving Arms tells the story of a "typical writer" and the "typical sinner" who falls in love/hate with him. Unflinchingly self-flagellating, the narrator blames herself and her own personality flaws for the relationship problems. Despite the sweetly melodic phrasing and bouncy snares, the undercurrent is undeniably morbid as the narrator declares the futility of offering messy feelings to an emotional fortress: "He won't let me in/In case I crease his pages." The fragility and insecurity of the narrator surface again in Poem Song, where Scattergood peels back the scabs of mental wounds against a background of hesitant piano and vocals that rasp and sob with a controlled rage and frustration. More than three minutes into the song, a reprieve of violins comes in before Scattergood re-enters with an almost disturbing plea for reunion.
Austere synths and a drum machine take over for Bunny Club, a jet-black recounting of sleaze, which displays a brilliant schizophrenia as Scattergood's vocals slip easily between dirty breaths and innocent sunshine; she explodes the angel/whore dichotomy in a flurry of discordant, symphonic synthpop. Nitrogen Pink, another previously released single, is buzzing and whizzing with pent-up, squealing feelings that threaten to shatter all composure; it's like the narrator is spinning round and round with open arms, triumphantly welcoming the pain like bouquets dripping with blood-red flowers. Apparently, Scattergood wrote the song about a friend deteriorating with cancer. The record concludes with Breathe In Breathe Out, a serene piano ballad accented with bird twitters. It is a weary resignation after all the preceding catharsis as Scattergood's voice delicately falters with the lyric "Learn to breathe in/Learn to breathe out/I can't let you go...yet."
There is something truly magical about Scattergood's debut; it breaks your heart with the delicacy of a heart surgeon. She accomplishes a record akin to a diary of an eighteenth-century woman accused of hysterics and committed to Bedlam. And when you're finished listening, you emerge feeling purified by insanity. For Scattergood, the people she loves are the ones who are here today, gone tomorrow, leaving her naked and impoverished; her only crime is being a spendthrift with her love.
I Hate the Way - Polly Scattergood
I Am Strong - Polly Scattergood
Nitrogen Pink - Polly Scattergood
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #55
I watched the Brit Awards a couple of weeks ago, and the only part that made it worth it was the finale with Pet Shop Boys; although, I could have done without the appearance of Lady Ga Ga and Brandon Flowers (the former looked like a blue willow china stripper with a broken arm, and the latter looked like an owl murderer). Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe still exude that aloof cool that elevates the potentially tacky and disposably popular into a higher art form (if you have any doubts, read Michael Bracewell). Their tenth studio album, Yes, will release later this month, so there will likely be a review post then. I also need to say that I would love to have a coat like Neil Tennant's.
In honour of the Pet Shop Boys stellar performance, this week's mix will be a synthpop one, the third one since this blog began. And it opens with the excellence of Suburbia. This one's called Run With the Dogs Tonight.
Suburbia - Pet Shop Boys
Enola Gay - Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
M.A.G.I.C. - The Sound of Arrows
Another Day - Strawberry Switchblade
Quiet Life - Japan
Send Me an Angel '89 (Dance Mix) - Real Life
Be Near Me (Munich Disco Mix)- ABC
Sub-Culture (12" version) - New Order
Jump For Joy - The Passions
Don't Go (12" version) - Yazoo
Underpass - John Foxx
The Magician - Secession
Fang - Los Electricos
Sanctuary - New Musik
Love Action (I Believe in Love) - The Human League
The Ballad of Sexor - Tiga
I Wanted to Tell Her - Ministry
The Rules I Broke - Tim Scott
Doot Doot - Freur
Venus - Indochine