Category Archives: Music

Stop Making Sense

Go on I dare you. I double dare you. Go on, I dare you not to crack a smile when you watch this.

Sublime stuff from the best live-in-concert film ever – Stop Making Sense by The Talking Heads, directed by Jonathan Demme of Silence Of The Lambs fame. If you haven’t seen it, well you should, I’ve never known a recorded gig to be so captivating. David Byrne doesn’t let you ignore him.

Let him entertain you some more…

Hits of The Near Future

The esteemed Warp Records had their glitchy mits all up inside two of my Top Ten Albums of The Decade. Best keep an ear out for new audio dynamite on their newly-released 2010 sampler then. Just how many of these folk will be whipped up in the 2019 list frenzy?

Have a free guess thanks to the smashing peeps at Warp. Grab free downloads from the sampler – by Gonjasufi, Nice Nice and The Hundreds in The Hands – and listen to a snippet of every track here.

The Top Ten Albums of the Decade

10. Les Savy Fav – Go Forth (French Kiss, 2001)

The boisterous bass and rhythm, cornered and incendiary + Tim Harrington’s sharp lyrical wit = Sumptuous rock gold.  One of those albums – indeed bands – that improves with the claustrophobia of headphones.

Case studies – Tragic Monsters

9. Godspeed You! Black Emperor –  Lift Your Skinny Fists To The Sky Like Antennas To Heaven (Constellation/Kranky, 2000)

Godspeed! changed the way I thought about music. Four twenty minute-plus epics of emotion? For a teenager immersed in grunge and its mostly sorry aftermath any song over five minutes was peculiar. A double album consisting solely of elongated instrumental movements was a trip. But it was heavy so it was good  – or so the grunge logic went. Effectively different tracks rise and fall out of the over-arching movements as intensity builds, whirls and dissipates in the amorphous Canadian band’s melting pot. Prog, punk, classical, post-rock – they all get thrown into the avant-garde blender, as too your emotions. Just lie on a bed and listen to it.  GYBE could be seen as a pretentious bunch but the work is of such quality as to be hugely accessible. Forgive me for sounding like your mates Dad driving your-trying-to-pretend-like-your-not-full-of-cheap-booze 14yr-old greasy features home as he takes this small opportunity to crank up his Dire Straits Best Of BUT you have to appreciate the scale of the ambition and the precision of musicianship. This is true spine-tingling stuff, genuine waves of cherished calm before the anticipation writhes to the fireworks of the climax and peaks of heightened awareness. And back down. And repeat. More a drug less an album.

Fix: Storm

8. Battles – Mirrored (Warp, 2007)

I remember where I was when I first heard B EP  – namely the peerless opener SZ2 – in the dingily sparse back-room of The Marquee, Norwich.  It and only it ran around my mind for days until I could pin down a copy of my own. A couple of years later it had a whole track-listing of peers to play with on Battles debut album. The changing time-signatures chopping in and out, the glory of  the short-lived melodies, the layers of aural intensity and – oh my – the drumming. Battles sounded like Fugazi hiring Stravinsky, buying keyboards, doping the drummer – with performance-enhancing athlete brands of dope and a cup of warm mushroom tea for good measure – and asking him to interpret percussively a cluster of wrongly-convicted intergalactic bandits on a mission to free Earthlings from the constraint of time whilst the rest of the band valiantly attempt to translate the dissonance of my brainwaves into a six-minute tune. And if that sentence was too long for you then go listen to Mirrored and read it again.

Masterpiece: Tonto

7. LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver (DFA 2007)

After an enthralling spate of dynamite single releases – Losing My Edge for track of the decade anyone? – LCD Soundsystem’s eponymous début felt a little flat. James Murphy et al could clearly craft a twenty-first century outlier hit but LCD on long-play? It felt like they didn’t understand such an anachronistic concept. Yeah what-evs.  They recorded Sound of Silver and turned second-album syndrome on its head. Seamlessly clean electronic perfection bubbling with Murphy’s sardonic chirps. Press play and every track demands the next as you daydream of mythic parties.

Heaven Sent: Someone Great

6. Jamie Lidell – Multiply (Warp, 2005)

The KFC-lite sounds of Jamie’s most recent longplayer –  ‘Jim’ – suggest that this mid-decade belter will stand as Lidell’s high watermark. Multiply is simply seductive.  Its cup brimmeth over with smart percussion, sublime guitar licks, grooves simultaneously fresh and familiar and Lidell’s are-you-sure-he’s-a-white-guy? voice. At every turn this LP has soul. From dancefloor fillers like A Little Bit More through to the finger-clicking Music Will Not Last and inner-Jamie laid bare on Game For Fools this album plays out like a blueprint for genius. The spirit of Stevie Wonder circa the 70’s would be nodding in appreciation. I dare you not to boogie along too.

Big bopper: Multiply

For your viewing pleasure here is a beautfiul animated video for album opener You Got Me Up…

5.Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped (Geffen, 2006)

I once dated a girl who claimed she didn’t go to bed with any joe who wasn’t aware of Thurston Moore. Luckily – or so I thought so at the time – I knew of Moore et al but I’d never gone deep into the black hole of cool that remains Sonic Youth. It was Rather Ripped that would change all that. It was a succulent epiphany. Meaty melodies were repeatedly dragged and twisted from shards of bone. All the usual angst amid distortion was in place but each track offered a glimmer of an opening compared to other works of Sonic Youth which tend to be blessed with the kind of arms-folded-shut welcome of a freshly withdrawn teenager. No here there was a way in – like if you loitered in the butcher’s long enough and ignored, in the right way, the cute meat-serving girl behind the counter you’d fancied for ages then she might just take you home and do it to you on her blood-soaked apron.  The determined vocals – writhing with danger and sexual assurance – were passed back and forth with the precision of a blade as the anti-king and queen of rock returned to form and left their pretenders to mop up the sweat and tears. So to recap, if you don’t know Moore, Gordon, Ranaldo et al it’s important that you are aware that they might cut you but only to maximise your pleasure in the bedroom.

Seductresses: Sleepin’ Around, Pink Steam

If you watch nothing else then watch this incredible live rendition of Pink Steam…

4. M Ward – End Of Amnesia (Loose, 2002)

Pure soporific delight from one of 2009’s awfully monikered ‘Monsters of Folk’. Not that one should disagree with the sentiment though – M Ward delivered five spellbinding discs this decade. None would top End Of Amnesia though. It virtually strokes you to sleep with the soothing rhythms and deft guitar that haunt the album. Sentiments of heartbreak and the sorrow of memory are in the air. Yet there is an acceptance, a glee almost, in the natural decaying of things. Ward is like a wizened old storyteller who ran away in his pomp to play in a beautifully decrepit travelling show, its best days and velvet curtains all dusty. He’ll tell you this was after his true love left him, but then at least he had the fortune to meet her he’ll add. The controlled, punctuating and expressive percussion, M Ward’s honey and grit voice, the album evokes so many images it’s as if Ward has blown the cobwebs off his photo album and is leading you down the richest of memory lanes.

Take heed: Bad Dreams, Carolina

3. The Rapture – Echoes (DFA/Vertigo, 2003)

Air cow-bell? I’d never played air cow-bell until Echoes came along. And if any song is giving LCD’s ‘Losing My Edge’ a run for track of the decade it is The Rapture’s preposterously good ‘House of Jealous Lovers’. Whoever wins DFA Records comes up trumps. Apparently so demanding were DFA production duo James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy on the sensitive Rapture boys that recording Echoes almost split them. Dear Rapture, please stop and listen to the album you conjured here and then compare it to the schmaltz of the un-engaging non-DFA follow-up Pieces of The People We Love. This is edgy yet delicately judged dischord, all angles considered. Wild, infatuated and knowing highs crash into cavernous lows. Post-punk, no-wave, disco, eurotrash all collide. The genre hopping and expert production serve to give the band’s crazed sounds the perfect sweaty platform on which to lay themselves bare. Until they pick up the phone to Murphy & Goldsworthy again, they’ll never sound the same.

Club Classics: House of Jealous Lovers, Sister Saviour

Treat yourself right – enjoy The Rapture’s anthem how it should be enjoyed, in a dark and sweaty place…

2. Smog – A River Ain’t Too Much To Love (Domino, 2005)

Bill Callahan’s last outing as Smog sees him at height of his song-craft. Sophisticated and supremely beautiful – let’s not be overly-dramatic but if something unfortunate should ever happen could someone play Say Valley Maker at whatever funeral service I’m granted please. Corny as it sounds Callahan is a poet. The lyrical imagery ceaselessly stimulates the brain. It resonates deeply within you yet it likes to stay in the shadows, you have to discover it for yourself. This is an excerpt from Rock Bottom Riser,

I saw a gold ring
At the bottom of the river
Glinting at my foolish heart
So my foolish heart
Had to go diving
Diving, diving, diving
Into the murk

And from the bottom of the river
I looked up for the sun
Which had shattered in the water
And pieces were rained down
Like gold rings
That passed through my hands
As I thrashed and I grabbed
I started rising, rising, rising

Introspection never sounded so darned swell. As you go you’ll find fatalism, optimism, resignation, stoicism and love. It’s almost jolly compared to his back catalogue, although Bill always had a wicked sense of humour which is still evident on tracks like The Well. Callahan has never produced a more hopeful sounding collection.  A River is almost completely purged of the the mournful, the angry and the empty. Even Rock Bottom Riser takes a swing toward the light. This album is an incarnation of Herzog’s ‘ecstatic truth’. I can’t believe it’s not number one.

Sunbeams: I Feel Like The Mother of The World, Say Valley Maker

1.Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People (Arts & Crafts, 2003)

It just gets better on every listen. The thirteen tracks bleed into one another in the definition of harmony. BSS were a collection of musicians – varying between ten to fifteen on this album – from Montreal who’d be hanging out in post-rock art-house bands like Do Make Say Think and A Silver Mt.Zion. Then they decided to make a pop album. You Forgot It In People could be the most serendipitous pop happening of all time. It challenges and comforts, it is outside and inside all at once. It is hushed, post-coital, but it wants to played on a hilltop louder than the volume goes. Cautious, introspective and optimistic – see Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl – BSS can also drive the hell out of tunes such as Almost Crimes or Pacific Theme. For all the layers in every track there is always balance. You are drowning but you are drowning in pillows. The percussion or horns or backing vocals or strings or banjo or always something! seem to constantly provide an extra dimension and serve for repeated listening and discovery. Such are the advantages of having a cornucopia of musicians to call upon. The production is wondrous as different instruments are plucked from the milieu and given centre-stage at just the right time. This album is made with love and this is how love should be. And love pips truth to number one.

There are no song suggestions, you go listen to it all.

But as tracks of the decade go, I’d pick Cause=Time.

p.s A few honourable mentions in no particular order. All great albums but too early too judge their lasting impact…

The Felice Brothers – The Felice Brothers (Team Love, 2008)

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp, 2009)

M83 – Saturdays = Youth (Mute, 2008)

The xx – xx (Young Turks, 2009)

100 Poems in a Day!

One poem every 8 minutes from the marvellous Tim Clare. It’s one way to cure writer’s block. Tim today completed 100 poems in 24 hours. Congratulations Tim. Read his blog too.

We seek niches.

Punk is not just a genre or an aesthetic. It is a lens for seeing and approaching the world. Ask questions, follow your passion, find out for yourself, respect others, be consistent but don’t be afraid of change. It is a rejection of being spoon-fed the dominant ideology and culture. One day I realised that I hardly listened to any music made by women, so I sought some out and was rewarded.

The sounds and looks of punk were consumed by the mainstream long ago, internalised to protect the status quo and then sold back to us as fashion – reminds me of Foster-Wallace describing, in E Unibus Pluram, how television insulated itself from criticism by hijacking irony. Speaking of fashion and irony, a near fourteen-year-old full circle has me back in plaid shirts. Realising that I was only a tye-dye tee away from my 14-year-old self’s essential wardrobe, I found it appropriate to listen to the music that first ignited my interest in the notion of punk, and indeed plaid. The inkling that Nirvana would be forever culturally maligned has been thrashed into submission by the rediscovery of the now 20-year-old Bleach.

Punk has left a legacy of cringe-inducing faux rebellion and a subtle lingering distrust of popularity that has left subcultures hamstrung by any attempts to move beyond a niche. We seek niches. We use cultural niches to help define ourselves. This is an epoch of separation but we still don’t want to be alone – else the logical climax would be binary crowds at ever more obscure shows. We want to share our passion and appreciation, but we just don’t want everyone to know. In the spirit of things here’s a band you should listen to but tell no-one  else about, The xx, they have the power to warm.

For all its cultural critique potential and misuse, music is still the simplest way to mainline punk and all it’s passion. Joe Strummer’s electric leg says it all.