People say I'm cool
Yeah, I'm a cool chick baby.
Every day I thank God
That I'm such a cool chick baby.
-Yoko Ono, "Death of Samantha"
ILM's 2005 collaborative mix project hoonja-doonja!
February 28, 2005
February 27, 2005
When St Peter finally calls them all in out of his book, I’m sure he’s got to have a special section of heaven roped off for pop-punk acts doing love songs. There’s something inherently great about the moments when a bunch of snot-nosed three chorders stop with the dumb pop culture references and dick gags for long enough to crack out the acoustic guitar and drop it on you on some kinda Petrarch tip. That’s why I’m mourning Blink 182’s departure at the moment: the effort our man puts into “I Miss You”, despite the fact that he can’t sing at all, is stunning. You can hear every single vein in his body straining itself just so he can do his dumb little song in anything approaching an acceptable register… it’s simultaneously heartbreaking and heart-warming. Like when you see a really ugly couple together who are obviously in love.
Anyway, yes, secrets, and having secrets. And discovering them. And revealing them, for that matter. A guy once threatened to punch me for giving him the answer to one of the clues in his Times cryptic crossword. And not in a jovial “D’oh, you crazy kids!” kind of way. In an actual “I am about to cause you severe cranial trauama” way. People hate having secrets revealed for them. They like to think that they’re intelligent just because the saw the punchline from a few seconds earlier, or that they named the murderer before Miss Marple did, or whatever. They fail to understand that the whole pretence of it was that the writer wanted you to work it before the main character did, that’s how he builds up your confidence, deux ex machina is for failures, you’re a winner. “Deep Deep Down” has a hidden meaning that I, as the 15 year old I was when I first heard the song, didn’t get. I just assumed it was a song of failed love, the sort of songs that soundtrack your being when you’re at that age. Of course, now I’m 22 years old, and can successfully hold a conversation with a member of the opposite sex without drooling, I understand that it’s just a novelty song about killing your girlfriend, but by then it doesn’t really matter. It’s your song. Enjoy.
February 26, 2005
i look uneasy-thanks for asking, it's all right. watch the rasta jabs, run free out to the new day. roll over onto the dotted lines. streets fold in half end to end. static three-lane ways bend into katamari traffic stops. fruit stands from river beds into avenues. breakfast for three and the world is still asleep. spoons and plates, hotel double beds. it's all right. it's morning all night.
the center of the earth is a nyc coffee shop off of broadway, a squat in philly, a warehouse in berlin--the stoney dubby savior horns mined from 1980 will save us all. smooth down the corners of the shaking masses. jump the chain link fence at the end of the night. follow the dj and the games without genres. liberators are for suckers. some say only the translator camps will survive. photo id required. the more one eyed kings the better.
if only we knew. 'it may come late'- a half second teaspoon delay pill. its all right. pull the solo synth horn hand brake back to the primitive days. what is inconceivable at this second, will be gone but not forgotten tomorrow. just keep it on with the dancing. to the turn around time. arcade classic breaks. expiration dates on the lives of the famous. its all right. what are the odds on the pope making it alive to sunday? did they get him breathing on his own again last night?check the vegas line. put me down for a hundred. reverse the curse. operation disaster. resist cease and desist.
no expiration dates. no translations. no p.i.n.'s, no text messages please. all right? walk this song down to the end of the street. hail a cab to the top of the queue. four one way avenues take me to the start, for the rest of my life. hand picked songs go to rest, pieces fallen from the board. everyone keep on dancing. the queen goes eight different ways. the fruit doesn't hang low and faded anymore. who let that guy into the building? arabs in the hall---its all right, we go back, we're tight. the dance floor keeps me wired into sunday afternoon so i check for room service and put some clothes on before it gets here. it will be all right.
(posted by BB on behalf of kephm)
-disc 2 ends here-
February 25, 2005
I'm taking a little bit of a different perspective on the theme by thinking about actual extraplanetary music, not music that's outside our traditional English-or-colonized-by-them worldview, or missed chances at the Billboard charts. Mostly because all my african funk songs I had in mind sounded really weird next to that YMO song, and I couldn't bring myself to download any Hearts Of Space crap . Anyway, I'm flipping through my shared directory and the title of this song made me laugh in this context.
But hey! What if the aliens are kinda like us? What if they have cool alien girls in garage bands? What if they have 4/4 time? Hey, what if they didn't fuck it up and start charging 'gold circle' ticket prices at their bloated reunion show? What if they didn't have to partner with megacorps? OMG WHAT IF THERE WERE NO MEGACORPS?
What if music there was just as fun and free as fucking should be? And what if the aliens are all as hot as Brijette West and Sean Yseult?
If they found us they would surely destroy us.
February 24, 2005
This song was put out by a Japanese synthpop/dance band in 1980. Shortly thereafter, the Japanese handed the Americans their ass in the automotive and home electronics industries. That's correlation, people. It is my assumption that Solid State Survivor was being played over loudspeakers every morning during the calisthenics sessions in the factory yard. This is why every time a Lee Iacocca book enters my field of vision the letters in the title do a little wavy bit and restabilize as "DAMN YOU, YMO." This song is the popmusic avatar of quality manufacturing and technological sophistication. If it had ever touched the charts in America, the UAW would have voluntarily dissolved, and we would have lots of incredibly fast trains to take us from city to city in less than a day. But let's not ponder what might have been, let's make do with what we have. Take this track to work tomorrow and start bringing home the serious bacon - revenge bacon from Asia. We can do it. Hone your skills.
February 22, 2005
I don't understand how jazz purists work. Which is fair 'nough, since I hardly understand how jazz works in terms outside my semi-rudimentary pop-crit visceral language -- me being the type to judge Roach and Bonham or Monk and Worrell much the same way, with little regard for whatever mumbojumbic technicianistic beardstrokespeak used by those fusion-averse diehards that wrote Miles Davis out of their wills after 1970. The dabbler set I roll with is allegedly the same type that bought up Eddie Harris' albums in droves in the '60s -- his first hit (and the first million-selling jazz single) was a cover of the theme to "Exodus" in '61; the album it originated from, Exodus to Jazz, became a quick gold-seller, and he found better-than-modest chart success with subsequent crossover-friendly LPs like 1967's The Electrifying Eddie Harris and Swiss Movement, his 1969 Montreux-recorded instant-chemistry collab with Les McCann (featuring "Compared to What" of semi-recent Coke ad reappropriation infamy). A lot of jazz purists didn't take much of a shine to him, considering he was a bit of a mad scientist-slash-hot rod customizer when it came to his instruments -- at various points he played saxophones with trombone mouthpieces, clarinet joints and bassoon reeds. The tinkering peaked with his usage of the Varitone, an electric doohickey with amplification and tonal effects that distorted the familiar sax tone into subtly yet strangely-nuanced distortions. Ain't how Charlie Parker did it.
And thank God for that. "Smoke Signals" originates from Silver Cycles, recorded in September '68 and released a few months afterwards, and it holds an interesting distinction: it allegedly contains the first recorded musical utilization of the Echoplex -- a device that allows continous tape-delay effects that, per the name, facilitate the ability to overdub gigantic walls of echo on an instrument. Harris went a bit overboard with it, and it shows: at first the sax sounds simply as though it's being played in the center of an empty concrete parking garage, and then it expands and oscillates its way out towards self-dueling, inner-ear-inverting gigantic-edifice sonic ricochet Lee Perry turf (a good 2-3 years before it was Lee Perry turf). Imagine listening to a sax-heavy improv jazz piece and having difficulty knowing not only where the melody is going to go but where it is at that very moment, and you can appreciate this song on a technical level most bebop cats must've been dumbstruck by. And on a melodic level, it's immediately gratifying: aside from Harris' playing -- which, after the Great Rockcrit Cliche Purge that always gets threatened every so often, will be one of maybe five tracks that could still be referred to without fear of reprisal as "ethereal" -- are a chorus of bizarre soprano female voices who alternate between space-age wails and cocktail-lounge bop scat and sound like they originated from the Logan's Run Tabernacle Choir, a subatomic bass you hardly notice unless you focus on its elasticity, and an inspired beat that swings from subtle time-keeping to unobstructively flashy rolls and flourishes in just the right places. In essence, it sounds like how a Charles Deaton building looks.
It’d be a strange world in which Peter Hammill scored a Top 40 hit; he’s certainly never come close in this one. For more than 35 years he’s been digging away at his cult artist trench, influential but barely on speaking terms with popularity. It’s easy to hear why. His voice, for starters. Not many Pop Stars enunciate with quite such plummy precision. And whilst his baritone is often beautiful, it’s never far from unhinged. He sounds like a King’s Chorister turned mean and unpredictable by age and bad liquor.
Then there’s the lyrics. Whilst Hammill’s themes have ranged far and wide, he returns again and again to the question of what it means to be alive. I can’t think of another songwriter quite so preoccupied with the existential. He picks at mortality like an itchy scab, knowing he can’t answer himself but constrained to keep trying anyway. This makes for some wordy songs, and sometimes he runs away with himself and comes off overblown. Many of his love songs create the impression of a slightly overbearing obsessive. He don’t do many jokes. But when he reins in the anxiety just a little bit he’s as affecting and honest as anybody in pop.
He also has an ear for a tune, which helps. In Van der Graaf Generator, the shrieking Prog-Jazz behemoth that launched Hammill to, well, not success exactly, the melodies are usually hammered into your skull like titanium rivets. In his solo work, he displays a more restrained pop sensibility. “The Second Hand” is a Bowie-ish homebrew funk number from the late 70s. Hammill plays everything except the lovely sax provided by long-time collaborator David Jackson. It feels like the musical equivalent of outsider art. It’s about mortality, obviously.
February 21, 2005
Top 40 from another world? This one truly is: it was the most played song on Swedish National Radio in 2000, yet has barely been heard outside of Europe.
Huge in their native Sweden as well as in Europe, The Ark do a theatrical and opulent brand of glam-pop; the kind that aims to hit all your pop sensors at once but refuses to succumb to kitsch or pomposity. "It Takes A Fool To Remain Sane" was the group's breakthrough single from their 2000 album "We Are The Ark," and it also happens to be one of my favorite pop songs of the current decade. Even after a countless number of plays, I am still impressed by how well the lyrics and music are able to articulate the touchy notion of gay intolerance into such a classy pop anthem that is both fist-pumping and bittersweet. There's also this incredibly palpable sense of lead singer Ola Salo living vicariously through his lyrics and exuberance, as if this song was the only way he could access his most gushing emotions.
As Ned commented in his a-ha piece, there are songs that seem to defy logic when they fail to chart or aren't chosen as singles. But there are rare songs like this where you feel they deserve to flood the airwaves for as long as possible.
February 20, 2005
Proof positive that not all the great 70s falsetto groups hailed from Philadelphia! Unlike their sweet soul contemporaries the Delfonics, the Stylistics, or the later Blue Magic, the Whatnauts made their home in charm city, Baltimore. And boy do they ever charm on this, the leadoff track from their 1970 debut LP. Unfortunately for Whatnauts members Billy Herndon, Garnett Jones and Chunky Pickney, another thing they did not share with the aforementioned groups was any kind of major chart success. Their strongest whiff of chartdom's more rarefied air came with the release of "I'll Erase Away Your Pain", the third single from the debut, which reached #71 Pop, #14 R&B. And that was basically it for the boys, although they did score a UK top 5 hit with 1974's "Girls", a collaboration with Stang label-mates The Moments. It's a story that is pretty much the same with any number of great soul coulda-woulda-shoulda-beens. They all deserved better, but such are the vagaries of the pop marketplace. It's crowded out there!
"I Just Can't Lose Your Love" was never in fact released as an A-side; it was the B-side to "I'll Erase Your Pain", and as great as that cut was, its flip is something stronger. Slightly weirder and just plain desperate sounding, for me it sits at the table with all-time castrati classics "La La Means I Love You", "I'm Stone in Love With You", "Sideshow" and "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore." The song is a showcase for Garnett Jones, who performs the whole thing without the aid of his fellow 'Nauts. Well, it's a showcase for Jones, but also for the awesome production and arranging of George Kerr and r&b genius Sylvia Robinson. Hey, when Sylvia's involved you know the track is gonna be tough, and this is no exception. The song announces itself with vibes and piano in dialogue over a bed of gorgeous strings and harp. The strings recede for the first verse but beautifully reassert themselves in the second with a soaring triplet figure. I don't know who the house guitarist was for Robinson's All Platinum family of labels, but if you bump into him next time you're in Englewood, please buy the man a beer. He plays some real nice rhythm fills on this thing. Jones's voice isn't always technically the smoothest -- it loses a little definition the further he pushes it, particularly on the last chorus -- but it perfectly captures the desperation of the song's oh-shit-I-fucked-up-please-give-me-another-chance lyric. A stone classic.
Plus, they had one of the goofiest names and a couple of the coolest album covers of the 70s!
February 18, 2005
(Warning -- this is, um, a bit long. The post, not the song.)
Of the many varieties of should-have-been hits, I ask you to consider the singles that were never chosen by the bands with success, the potential oldies standards that aren't. So, turning to a favored touchstone of mine, early a-ha. In America cursed with a one-hit-wonder status or near enough to it, but overseas things were far different, slew of hit singles all around, continuing greatness (well, at least I think so). But on their second album Scoundrel Days, I am frustrated by the fact that the two best songs were never singles. What the heck were they thinking?
Oh, I suppose, I shouldn't complain. I doubt the band was complaining, why would they? But "Scoundrel Days" the song is one hell of an opener, with that nervous twitchy introduction and a chorus that feelings like soaring over the fjords. Then there's "The Swing of Things."
Beautiful, wonderful "Swing of Things." See, it's a song that if you're not careful you can describe as yupfunk thanks to the way that the verses move, a bit of restrained swagger, careful attitude. I can imagine some dork somewhere thinking he was suave trying to pull off a ‘hey, get me babe!' approach on his local dance floor in 1987 while pounding the wine coolers (had this been a hit and it had been a couple of years later, this dork would have been me, so I mock out of love...OR DO I?)
Thing is, though, that the tres lame guitars that usually distinguished such efforts were gone (Cutting Crew was probably dorking around with them), because a-ha were geniuses and avoided such idiocy. So instead there's a quiet bit of mournful guitar near the start that could almost eventually be a quiet bit of mournful Martin Gore guitar and for all I know Martin Gore was listening because even he hadn't found out yet quite how to integrate it fully into his approach. (His approach was already great mind you. So was Alan Wilder's. But I digress.)
The FURTHER thing though is that the opening is this sparkling chime of a synth that's still beautiful today -- are IDM people using this? Why not dammit? GARG -- and it's a slightly descending melody so it's glam (possibly) except then it keeps going back up but it's still sad while there's all sorts of buried drum bits and bass, and then a quick shimmer into that guitar/keyboard bit alluded to earlier. Blue, deep deep blue. I love melancholy when it works (oh but GOD do I hate it when it sucks, the pain the pain...).
Meanwhile, when Morten Harket, who pulled a reverse Al Green by studying for the priesthood before becoming a famous singer (and he didn't even have to get burned or anything), sings on those verses and elsewhere, that supposed swagger isn't. Instead it's a discussion of how the construction of interdependent world politics and its reportage in the mainstream media results in an overwhelming conclusion that all matters everywhere must be attended to by all thinking persons on a regular basis, as well as a discussion of how engaging with the world will yet provide better results than completely withdrawing from it, but how in the face of those observations, especially and even when conveyed by someone who could well be an activist of some sort, the feelings of romantic love for that other can in fact override these considerations, leading to an admission that the personal can transcend the political, which given the nature of the potentially overwhelming pressures of modern life is perfectly understandable. So in otherwards this was socially conscious music that made a concise plea for pointing out the values of supposedly bourgeois romance. It was the most intelligent and politically aware music of the eighties! It was everything those smugfucks at Rolling Stone said was missing the entire decade, only they wouldn't pay attention because neither Jerry Garcia nor Jeff Lynne worked on it! BASTARDS! I WANT DAVID FRICKE'S WARDROBE BURNED TO THE GROUND!
Hm, anyway. So when The Chorus kicks in each time, it's Morten (via bandmate Pal Waaktarr, who wrote music and lyrics) channeling The Lexicon of Love the first time around ("But how can I speak of the world rushing by/With a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye?" -- you're saying Martin Fry couldn't sing that? I THINK NOT), then Avalon the second time around ("But how can I sleep with your voice in my head/And an ocean between us and room in my bed?" -- I've been through long distance relationships and lemme tell ya this is more accurate than you'll ever know unless you've been there). And both times the music strips down to this quick pulse beat and gentle cymbal clash and soothing keyboards, then the drums break down in a distinctly non-4/4 beat (6/8 I think? Someone correct me here) for the second part. Let us take the time to herald the inspired work of session drummer Michael Sturgis on this song, on the album, because he was the Hal Blaine of this mother and he's a GENIUS. More later but just listen to the way he skitters on the high hat before bringing it back in full on those choruses. And I haven't even mentioned the soaring double-tracked way Morten completes those choruses with a sudden almost resigned sing/stating of the title, almost an acceptance of fate.
A quick sprightly break and then everything almost turns ghostly, Morten sings "When she glows..." and the keyboards damn well GLOW, like a haunting dream somewhere, like this is the ghost in one's house, the angel floating around the room. You know, how does/did he nail that sense of poised rhyme scheme, time and tempo, breathless but never out of breath? What a dream of a singer Morten was here, this is something that might or might not survive American Idol rundowns but damn if this isn't all the training and expression one could want coming to bear, and when he takes the arrangement back into full propulsion with one of his trademark high-pitched rises on "I KNOW that I'll need THIS for the REST of my LIFE" it's pretty great, and then That Guitar sneaks back in from the start of the song, Sturgis keeps the tension and pace moving and changing just a bit, Morten repeats the line quietly, resignedly, then he lets fly -- it's not the same type of unearthly wail in "Take On Me," it's lost in the mix, a cry of a lost soul.
Then the final thirty seconds are heralded by this monstrous drum fill from Sturgis -- no, fine, it's not John Bonham level but it's all about context, LISTEN to it slam in, holy fuck -- and Morten drops the emotional bomb: "What have I done/What lies I have told/I played games with the ones that rescued my soul." Argh ARGH ARGH I might as well be wearing those words tattooed on my brain with a pickaxe (and even if I hadn't been there my god how great is it that Morten delivers it post-wail with an almost aggressive multitracked flatness, not pleading, not sorrowful, but blunt, Bowie as the alien looking coldly on himself or something). And it concludes with a massive crash and bash, the title phrase delivered quietly one more time, a dying keyboard figure and one last quick fill from Sturgis.
And it wasn't a single! This apocalyptic catchy mental explosive of a dancefloor filler meets elegant ballad meets state of the art production c. 1986 WASN'T A SINGLE! OMGWTF and I can't even LOL because it's nothing to laugh at!
But hey, at least that means I can include it here.
Never seen Fox on TOTP2. Never really seen them anywhere. There's nowhere on the internet to find out the name of the planet where she and her sequined prince spent some time (Narella?) But in the mid-70s, Noosha Fox and her band of hairy guys scored UK top 10 hits with 'Only You Can' and 'S-S-Single Bed'. This is from their final, 1977 album Blue Hotel. Funny times. They did things differently there and all that.
"He takes me places I've never been in his space flash limousine, and everywhere I'm seen in his arms"
Oh Noosha, Noosha, where he's taken you now?
There's another world that's a lot like this one, only it's much better because John Talley-Jones is on the radio singing about lust. Someone on ILM pointed out that Jimmy Webb was able to pack a lot into Wichita Lineman's 37 different words--this evokes as much with nine words to spare.
February 17, 2005
Instead of selecting a tune that sounds like it's from another world I've chosen a song performed by a man from another world. In this case it's Von Lmo, who claims he was born in the black light dimension in 1924 (and not in Brooklyn in the 50's as others maliciously report). Several years later he built a balsa wood rocketship and crash landed on Saturn, eventually studying music there under Sun Ra. While there he befriended a music student named Juno who told Von Lmo about the planet Strazar. So they used suspended animation to travel there and found it to their liking, residing there for several centuries.
Sometime in the 60's he made his way to Earth, ending up in Coney Island. He began working with various art-rock combos, including the power-tool weilding Pumpo, Red Transistor (with Rudolph Grey), and Kongress. During this time he was banned from pretty much every club in New York (except Max's Kansas City) for his on-stage antics, including out of control pyrotechnics/smoke machines, equipment destruction and violent behavior towards other band members.
In 1981 with help from Juno of Saturn and long-time art-rock conspirator Otto Von Ruggins, Von Lmo recorded the album Future Language from which this cut is taken. Supposedly dissatified with either the result or the cover picture of him without his trademark wig, many of the copies were destroyed. The eventual CD re-issue had to be taken from an unopened LP. After playing the final Max's Kansas City show Von Lmo was called back to Strazar to help solve an ecological disaster, and he was not heard from again until 1991 when Ecstatic Peace issued the long-lost Red Transistor 7". Between 1994 and 1997 Von Lmo released several other discs of skronk/noise and made some live appearances on both coasts before disappearing again, probably to help Strazar avoid some other calamity.
While this particular cut was not a top 40 hit here on Earth, I'm sure it blew up huge on Strazar. My favorite song by him is the Cosmic Interception version of "Leave Your Body" but unfortunately at 5+ minutes I can't include it here. Please seek it out if you enjoy "This is Poprock."
February 16, 2005
When Columbia released I Am The Greatest! in 1963, they thought they had a comedy album by some loudmouth boxer who was about to get his ass handed to him by Sonny Liston. They couldn't have known Cassius Clay would become the heavyweight champion of the world, join the Nation of Islam and change his name, becoming not only a pop icon, but also a cultural icon within two years of the record's release.
I imagine a handful of people picking up this album, giving it a spin, chuckling and completely forgetting about it, not realizing it gave them a glimpse into the future. This album laid the foundation for two things that seem inescapable now: brag raps and athletes referring to themselves in the third person.
This track, released as a single, takes the live "recitation of his classic poem 'I Am The Greatest'" and layers it over some shuffling bass, drums, guitar and organ. Cassius Clay tells you how wonderful and pretty Cassius Clay is, all without the aid of the words "I" or "me" (outside of the title, of course).
The poem appears unaccompanied at the beginning of the album, but someone must have realized all this "I AM TOTALLY AWESOME" talk might merit more repeat listens if, you know, it had a good beat and you could dance to it.
In the past forty-plus years, became slicker, rhymes became tighter and athletes became less eloquent, but the formula hasn't changed much. Any dis track or hilarious, self-serious pre-game interview shares something with "I Am The Greatest." The only thing missing from the modern versions is the audience's laughter.
February 15, 2005
To me, New Orleans often seems like another world. You can go to any other city in the country and they feel like variations on a theme, but then there's the one with Sunday second-lines, $2 Heinekens sold off of grocery carts, and them brass bands holding it all together. In NOLA, brass band music is hip-hop, it's party music, it's on the radio, it's for dancing, it is pop music. I can't think of another style of music that's so unique and so addictive yet has remained so confined within its geographical borders.
Hot 8 aren't the most well-known brass band, but they're quite possibly the best, especially the drummers. They have been together for 10 years and until a few weeks ago I'd been waiting for them to put a record out every day for nearly three years. Finally getting the cd out the back of Benny's truck behind some dumpsters was really how it had to go down.
'Skeet Skeet' is the single, so it's about half has long as a normal brass band cut and has no solos. Oh, and as for top 40 criteria, the "shorty" chant near the end is the g-rated version, good clean buck-jumping fun for the whole family.
It felt like the last great ardkore anthem for a long time after the event. By the Summer of '93 I'd become aware of the deepening rift that saw 140bpm breaks with plundered diva vocals fade out - a combination of an exciting idea running it's course naturally (for me at least) whilst failing to make a full impact beyond damp, moonlit fields and Fiesta carboots in enough sectors elsewhere. Hard to see why sometimes, given how well 'The Theme' is structured and delivered - hit sensibilities akin to hits like the housier 'Playing With Knives' or 'Insanity' to an extent, just as simplistic in premise but much heavier and more intense sonically with some dazzling sounds on display (the rumbling but tight break, the two-note throbbing bass, the foreboding choir, ominous clouds fragmented by Sabrina Johnston's grafted affirmation, just the sheer immenseness of it all...), thus destined to dent the top 100 but only just, despite some unexpected support from quarters ranging from daytime Kiss FM to MTV and even Channel 4's 'Big Breakfast' during their round-up of the week's best new singles. Damn nearly choked on my Shreddies so I did...
Producers Nino and Dice would go on to prove their hitmaking abilities in fine style with Baby D's 'Let Me Be Your Fantasy' eighteen months later, vindication of some sort. But I still feel that intuitive nous is also firmly evident in 'The Theme' , the chart in the other world inside my head declaring it top of the pops for a brief spell, only to be usurped by Therapy? (probably) a few weeks later, that being the sort of thing my music taste veered further towards in the ensuing twelve months before Jungle emerged from the swamp the scene descended into that year, to lure me back towards bass and breaks-driven mentalism once again. Of course my brother playing this what felt like every single day for about four years didn't really help either. Too much ecstasy, minus the drugs. But much of the music from this period in the scene's progression endures, and I'm happy to hear it again in a projected beam far removed from the original light but forever radiant now (now that I don't live with my brother at least). And if ever a rush were worthy of amber-encased preservation for all time I'll still go with this one (along with 'Euphoria (Nino's Dream)' of course).
Once more, for Nick.
The back story of Poor Javine, for those of you who weren’t enraptured by ITV1’s Popstars: The Rivals in the autumn of 2002: widely seen to be the most ‘talented’ contestant, she was controversially voted off the show the week before the final five girls were declared the winners. Those final five went on to become Girls Aloud, reigning queens of Popism, Poptimism and the UK charts. Javine Hylton went on to enjoy a very, very brief solo career before getting unceremoniously dropped by her record label. All together now: poor Javine!
It's probably scant consolation, but the girl who could've been aloud made the most slept-on single of last year, a monster disco anthem which sees her play the wronged woman to perfection. No, it's not that "Best Of My Love" - it's better. Replete with majestic, heady whooshes (oh, those whooshes! How good would they sound in a club? Very good, that's how good) and a pace which seems to get ever more frenetic as Javine's fury rises, it's mind-boggling that it didn't conquer the world. The city-flattening middle eight alone - 'I'm done with it! And I'm over it! And I'm through with it! And I can't believe I ever was a fool for you!' - should have been enough to cement this as Bona Fide Classic In The Vein Of "I Will Survive". Her earrings on the front cover were fabulous, too.
This single only barely cracked the UK Top 20. But in another world, this song established Javine as a star of such magnitude that there would have been no need to resort to the shoddy cover of Jade’s “Don’t Walk Away”, which was her next release – the final, desperate attempt to cling on to the mountain of pop stardom, and pretty much the final nail in her career’s coffin. Poor Javine.
February 14, 2005
Listen to the way Dead Man Ray's Daan Stuyven sneers his lines. Try to penetrate the song and make sense of the lyrics. You can't. There's no way to connect to the song. "BeeGee" is all about texture, the meaning of the words are superfluous. There's nothing to be gained from connecting the words into a message. Dead Man Ray learned everything from The The's Dusk and then realized there needed to be some cut-up disco injected in their sound. Daan knew why I liked Matt Johnson's music: it wasn't about the lyrics, it was about the voice and the hook. Dead Man Ray inhabit a different world - one which I feel part of. They're outsiders to the Pop universe. They deliberately play with the Pop rules and the English language. It's about an outsider looking at the Pop puzzle and throwing the pieces in the air. Let it fall on the table and see how it looks. Or sounds.
1. Ew writing writing writing. I haven’t slept in 30 hours, after having slept 14 hours yesterday, a nifty trick I’m likely to repeat tonite due to school, poor planning, and generally dicking the dog as they say. Patterns emerge, subsume, destroy me. Which is to say even on a good day I’d look at say Jody’s or Ally’s posts and do what I do when faced with superior efforts which is not even attempt to equal cuz no way do I equal it never mind top it even with sleep or coffee or even - just imagine - inspiration. O and the theme - um, gee it’d be crazy to hear this on the radio! O man! In a better world than this my brother, in a better world than this! Ie right click, save link target as, if you don’t have but do want, a maybe not so likely combo since this boot’s nearly a year old and hardly from an obscure source if you’re still paying attention to boots in 2004 or 5. Everything below: me showing how I can bore you - and how!, drop some personal with a tangent to the topic at hand, kick some blog, distract the guards. BLOGGGGGGGGGG. TREBUCHET ALL IN YO SHET.
2. Autumn 2001 I’m working in a record store in Athens, Wuxtry, where Pete Buck of early 80s faves REM worked, where John Fernandes of late 90s faves the Olivia Tremor Control works - Namedrops! WOO! I get the job becuz the guy who was stocking the ‘stuff besides indie rock and jazz’ has left. His name - Dangermouse! Another namedrop!, only this one’s related to the matter at hand cuz um, bootlegs, yes yes, ironic, it’s like that Grant Morrison JLA where the probabilities went whacky and Superman became the Green Lantern and Batman’s folx never croaked. I forget what happened to Martian Manhunter in that one. OK some more namedrops for no reason, as with above: when I was a kid future basketball hall-of-famer Tree Rollins lived down the street from my grandparents and I went fishing with him. O! and I sold Michael Stipe his copy of Rooty, which is pertinent cuz that lp featured the track “Romeo” which featured on a prominent bootleg at the height of the bastard pop craze. This track was called “The Magnificent Romeo” and it was magnificent and it was romeo! O!! and another time we saw some guy standing at the front door in some jean shorts and a big white Georgia Bulldogs t-shirt and like corny David Duval sunglasses, just standing at the front door and staring at the fliers and what on it for several minutes and then the guy comes in and asks me and John if we have any Groove Armada and we go ‘no’ and he leaves and me and John look at each other and go ‘whatta dork’. And it was Mike Mills. Which is pertinent (I hope I’m using that word right) cuz Groove Armada worked with Fatboy Slim who had a protobootleg o sorts with the “Satisfaction” remix of “Rockafeller Skank”, only maybe forget it cuz it kinda sucked, o and Mike Mills is in addition to being the name of a dorky bassist is also the name of a noted designer who’s an entirely different person from the bassist and has (probably) worked with Beck, who had a protobootleg o sorts with the “Highway to Hell” remix of “Mixed Bizness”, only maybe forget it cuz it kinda sucked too. THIS IS HIGHLY PERTINENT INFO AND IS LEADING SOMEWHERE VERY VERY REWARDING TO YOU THE READER.
3. Yeah, so right click, then ‘save link target as’. The rest of this, hmm, well. Don't.
4. Autumn 2001 I’m working in a very cif clientele record store, the three copies of The Blueprint I bother to stock remain unsold when I eventually leave a few months later, I never do stock Miss E…So Addictive cuz the one promo I put out used for seven bucks a week before release date is still sitting there unsold when I leave a few months later. Scene set. It’s autumn 2001 I’m working in a record store when I come in with a cd-r with some mp3s I’ve burnt, specifically, PERTINENTLY, the one mp3, yeah no shit “A Stroke of Genie-us” you guessed it, that prompted me to dl in the first place (though not the first track I dled, that’d be “Radar Love” by Golden Earring. Hh.) a practice I’d avoided previously for fears of Pandora’s box scenarios (these fears were warranted), but right now I gotta gottta play this track for someone so I’m playing it for everyone, anyone, and noone, nobody, is recognizing the vocals. I’m having to explain to some people who Christina Aguilera is. The Strokes though was recognized, pretty much immediately, pretty much every time. (Side note but extremely interesting to you the reader and I’m sure you’ll make use of it in your day-to-day life: the first person to recognize Xina, to ‘get it’, was a girl I was crazy for who ‘didn’t feel the same way about me’ ie. She didn’t want to fuck me But she did end up dating ie. Fucking a guy who looked A LOT like me! JUST LIKE IN THAT JLA WHERE BATMAN’S FOLX DON’T CROAK!!! WHAT A GIRL WANTS FOLX! NOT MY SORRY ASS!).
5. Intermission. I played this for a friend who amazingly enough was familiar with Xina and who related this little story which is better than anything I got - sorry folx! - and which I will relate to you now. My friend was babysitting her five year old niece who was coloring absentmindedly, and singing loudly passionately “What a Girl Wants”. My friend asked her niece what exactly a girl wants and my friend’s niece stared at her quizzically and thought for a minute and then finally said: “Cake.”
6. Spring 2004 after ten years I’m reunited with my youngest sister due to the worst event of my life during the worst year of my life (haha and I’ve fallen in love and attempted suicide and did neither during this year so that’s saying something!), but I’ve got my little sister again. She’s annoyingly hipper than me, only listens to hip-hop, dancehall, r&b, country and pop but definitely not any rock (ie she’s a young american - allllllllllllright), almost always has any mixtape I give her before I give it to her, intimidates the hell out of me truth be told, but I was able to burn her leaked copies of the Nellys prerelease for her so I take cool points where I can get them. She’s a big Xina fan, and though I tend to lean Britney (who’s “Oops! I Did It Again” mixed with Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” remains the only non-”Encore” boot I’ve ever heard on commercial radio, unlike this track which I’ve only heard via ipod or cd meaning Martian Manhunter might hear it on the radio - Top 40 from another world! Dig it! - but Batman? Superman? NEVER!) I’ve come around to Xina. She sounds great here, when she cries havoc and lets slip the vox of more it meshes really really well with the VU guitar, one of those pop climaxes you’ll take in every context. And then Jimmy Somerville comes in to seal the squeal. Never can say goodbye girl. Happy endings Happy endings.
February 13, 2005
It's difficult to imagine what another world's pop music would sound like when our pop music is often so strange and otherworldly. Would this other world latch on to our most banal, earthly sounds? Would Jeff Tweedy be their Timbaland? Or would their Top 40 be even stranger than ours? Becuase it suits my purposes, I'm going to assume the latter--this theoretical world would expand on the futuristic sonics and bizarre tropes that dominate our charts. And what better place to start than cry.on.my.console's J-Kwon glitch mix. Of course the huge drums are still there, no reason to fuck with the rhythm, but J-Kwon's vocals were never really that interesting, were they? This world doesn't need our bad McDonald's puns, so they get sound effects and pitch-shifts. We still require J-Kwon presence to be entirely comfortable with those beats, but, to them, he's just another instrument. We need to be willing to make these kinds of changes if we want to even begin to address our pop star trade deficit with future and other worlds.
It's like: I'm pretty sure I can't actually recognise one single instrument used on this thing. I'm not really sure there actually are any - this is a record where pop becomes a physical thing, something chunky and neon you really could build nearly-four-minutes out of, sticking a hand in and pulling out plasticine studded with rubies. It's almost mathematical, ten seconds and everything before and throwing in yet another obvious stupid brilliant hook like those lasergun noises or using "kobold" as a verb or that bit where that Martian violin winds down before it kicks in or "I only took the bare essentials/ The things I'd really need/ My oldest Motown records and my Abba 'Hits' CD" or that little fluttery heartbeat before "Trees" in case you're bored or something or that electric angelchoir going "ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ahahaha, ahahahaha" or or or...
I know y'all know it already, but this is number one, y'know? That's what number ones do.
February 11, 2005
It's 1979, and the U.S. has just suffered the worst nuclear disaster in its history, the meltdown at Three Mile Island. Amidst the ensuing public panic, as thousands of nearby residents have been potentially exposed to radiation, the media gravely debates the safety of nuclear power plants and asks what steps can be taken to prevent further failures.
And then Gil Scott-Heron steps up, armed with jubilant horns and female backup singers and his own great embittered croon, and pretty much dismisses the entire terms of the debate: "If you want perfection, if that's what it takes / Then you can't use people, don't use people, you know people make mistakes." To Gil, the only logical solution -- which many pundits aren't even considering, since we're still in the heat of the Cold War -- is to just (why not?) shut all the plants down.
I'm not normally one for political or protest songs -- half the time I don't pay attention to lyrics, anyway -- but I make an exception for Gil Scott-Heron. Where I see something like Springsteen's The Rising as sadly opportunistic, or Conor Oberst's "When the President Talks to God" as an attention-seeking stab at "seriousness," I like to imagine that Gil wakes up in the morning, reads the paper, and says, shaking his head, "Motherfucker. Looks like I got more work to do." For him, it's a duty to tell it like it is (and to dress it up in a baritone that drawls over awesome funk vamps). And for that I'm thankful.
-disc 1 ends here-
February 10, 2005
So you're an indie/underground rapper. That means you're supposed to stay uncommercial, stay conscious, stay away from that ignorant bling shit, say 'fuck the radio and mainstream.' You're definitely not supposed to sell your song as a jingle to giant corporations like Coca Cola or Motorola.
And so Lyrics Born's original version of "Callin' Out" sells mobile phones and diet cola. And he makes a remix that includes a mc notorious for both obscure slang and gangsta talk (E-40 is the Bay Area's Raekwon, if'n you ask me) and another most famous for losing a rhyme battle live on air. And it blows up Northern California for a lot of last year (or so I'm told from reliable sources.)
One more thing being indie/underground means: defying expectations and playing by your own rules. I call that chutzpah.
February 09, 2005
Let's get one thing straight. Ask my mother (or her mother before her) and she'd tell you, chutzpah is more than a Yiddish variation of "spunk". Chutzpah is arrogance, audacity, cheek, bravery and nerve, rolled in glitter or dirt with middle finger proudly extended. Those lucky enough to possess it invariably never hold onto it for long.
Witness Romanthony, sometime Daft Punk vocalist. Where he now? Back in 2000, he made music like "Wreck", which made hundreds of people happy and thousands of people dance. I once played this as the final song in my one and only DJ set, which followed an evening of alt-country bands in Brighton, England. The club manager came over to tell me to finish up and, like a drunken idiot, I put this song on a second time and stood there grinning as he screamed at me to stop. My grandmother would have been proud.
(This one is for Nick Kilroy)
February 08, 2005
I can't say much about context before about 1983. But there we were in 1974, me in my swaddling clothes and Shuggie in the studio. Producer: "Shuggie, this is the interlude. The openening riff is great, be sure to bring it back around." Shuggie, to himself: "I'll take it where it takes me, okay?" Two minutes eight seconds isn't much time to wander off, but he manages to.
Fuck Tiny Bradshaw, fuck Jimmy Page & the Yardbirds, fuck Aerosmith, fuck real drums, fuck keeping time, fuck bourgeois conceits about "singing", fuck the blues, fuck rock & roll, and fuck punk rock, too. Viva La France!
My girlfriend introduced me to Big Science, an album that I am very, very pleased to have procured. If anything, it has become ridiculously apparent that Laurie Anderson has got los huevos, in large part for having an actual hit song with the strange eight-minute spoken-word (mostly) vocoder-laden "O Superman". Spoken word! The critics called it "avant garde" and the public liked it!
But this track isn't "O Superman". This is "Example #22", where she sings about the sun, the birds, and hitting her lover up for whatever it is Laurie Anderson hits her lovers up for. Throw in a wind section, a bagpipe, bang-on-whatever's-there percussion, and some wild wailing and you have yourself one genuinely weird song. Not so weird, though, that it fails to be extremely catchy - it sounds like something The Books would try (and probably fail) to do with samples and guitar. She's very obviously the best at doing what she does, and I guess that entails, well, being Laurie Anderson.
(yes, i realize there's a smartass connection between this and "German Girl" when you play one next to the other. no, it wasn't intentional. really, i swear!)
February 07, 2005
Bobby Orlando is a man. A man from Westchester, who turned down a musical scholarship at age 18 to become a boxer. Boxing wasn't for him, however--too pretty a face to waste in a ring, too much fun had hanging out with the New York Dolls--and he started writing and producing music. Dance music. 1980 is the dawn of O Records, a time when disco was dead, or so they started to say, but the HI-NRG freestyle craze hadn't yet hit its peak. A risky proposition, some said to our hero Bobby. Never one to not take the random, insane plunge, though, he beat the naysayers and O Records was a success; its most enduring act being the Flirts, a sort of female Menudo, Bobby Orlando with an ever-rotating selection of female session singers to carry the lyrics. Well, the Flirts and the Pet Shop Boys. Ah yes: Bobby and the Pet Shop Boys. Our man Bobby basically wrote "West End Girls." The original version of the song still exists on The Best of O Records Vol. 2. Situation with a complication: your producer has just written you the best song you've had in your repertoire so far, but keeps trying to set you up on dates with the Flirts and convince you you aren't really gay. What do you do? The Pet Shop Boys, they steal the song and move to another record label, leaving their producer without a penny for his song. Which made Bobby very angry, indeed. So angry, in fact, that he basically shut down shop, went to law school, passed the NYS Bar, and sued the Pet Shop Boys himself in a rather Kill Bill-level of vengeance obsession.
Bobby Orlando took the millions he won off the Pet Shop Boys and now lives back in Westchester, where he breeds show Rottweilers. But not before he released two fantastic, classic freestyle/HI-NRG albums, one of which contains "German Girl," a song that sort of sounds like what would've happened had the Sisters of Mercy been from Astoria or Brooklyn.
Bobby Orlando, you have done every single thing I've ever wanted to do, from boxing to screwing over the Pet Shop Boys. You are my hero, my idol, the greatest man who ever lived and I salute you.
February 05, 2005
If they weren't yet the Richard Perry directed "Linda Ronstadt, in triplicate, with a beat" described by Xgau, in 1977 the Pointer Sisters were only a year away from fully embracing popdisco. "Don't It Drive You Crazy" from that years Blue Thumb album "Having a party" is almost impossibly lush funk. Shimmering strings, synth twizzles, Wah Wah Watson and a lyric that announces
I know i make it hard
but i don't care
a little later the poor guy (heh) is reminded to take his socks off.
February 04, 2005
Jackie McLean doesn't so much dismiss the blues as vivisect it, his mid-'60s recordings radiating out from the firm bop of his roots. By 1967 when 'Bout Soul was issued, Jackie had tried the Ornette stuff: the dismissal of a harmonic or melodic epicenter, the squawks and blares, always with a careful toe in the trad. Much of his risk-taking is thanks to ILM-fave Grachan Moncur III, whose compositions heavily dot the '60s McLean discog and allow the cat to open up, especially harmonically. Jackie's own compositions of the decade reflect his pal's dexterity and moxie.
"Soul" juts out on 'Bout Soul as a microcosm of the raison d'etre of jazz, i.e. soul. Barbara Simmons, poet, clearly has some experience with the subject matter, brandishing a mellifluous flow that anticipates Foxy Brown (not the rapper) and recalls Satchmo's scat. A Google search on Ms. Simmons yields little (I wonder if that’s her on the cover?) except for Amiri Baraka's incendiary lament on the disappearance of so many vital Black artists. (Amiri Baraka is the Poet Laureate of my home state, New Jersey. GMIII is a Jersey native as well, naturally.) Grachan Moncur III's nimble writing accounts for Prez and Rollins and Ornette without sounding schizo. A sultry theme swings along and the band burbles through and around the solos, an appropriate backdrop for Simmons’s enjambment and other literary maneuvers. Yeeaaaaahhhh, man. Soul is the holy rollers and all the unholy rollers, groovin’ in their own kinda way.
(In this case, the song was pulled from the Grachan Moncur III collection on Mosaic Records.)>
February 03, 2005
Screamin' Rachael was a former punk rocker who went on to become one of house music's first divas. She was also a classically trained vocalist, although you might not realize it from the bulk of her singing on "Fun With Bad Boys". But with this track, the genius is in the simplicity. The song consists of a bludgeoning, thudding bass line and not much else, while Rachael's lyrics are energetic but ultimately inconsequential. Remember all those James Brown tracks where you basically know all of the lyrics once you hear the title? The same principle applies here.
A word of caution -- you might want to glue the speakers to the floor for this one lest they undertake a random walk around your apartment.
January 1991. Sky is purple, it's snowing, room is lit from within the closet, where my desk is, by a flexible desk lamp, which makes the room seem purple too. My sisters, three and four, are in the living room. I'm looking at a Life magazine book of classic photographs--the proto-psychedelic delayed-flash Halloween kids-in-costume one, the Man Ray one Damon & Naomi will use on the cover of More Sad Hits. Holographic foil postcards on inside of closet walls. Bunch of cassettes, this being the newest. Spent my Christmas money on it and other things; play it first. Number six on Spin's year-end albums list, love the single, Miss Kier no. 1 lust object. I'm 15. Prince conditioning means psychedelic dance music is what I want out of life. Beat and bassline = the most powerful, cavernous-sounding thing I've heard on a record to that point. Vocal sounds playful and narcotic at the same time, mesmerized by the same aural goings-on I am and articulating it as simply as can be done. "I just wanna hear a good beat. I just wanna. I just wanna." Me too. God, me too.
Well, Herbert, in his inimitable way, may just be the very definition of chutzpah. What with P.C.C.O.M. and all. And because of lps full of Bodily Functions a la his contemporaries Matmos. Maybe you'd be tempted to write him off for conceptual pomposity alone, but then you'd miss his wonderful music and his deep and funky dj sets.
It was surprisingly hard to come up with a follow-up to the previous track, but I chose this one because the lyrics make a nice riposte to losing control, the analytical phase after the meltdown, and the music reflects the body's sensuality against you on the dancefloor in a disco-dub wasteland you go to when you're sick of thinking.
February 02, 2005
Broken down Manchester factory wasteland exchanged for broken down New York dub-disco wasteland. Grace doesn't so much sing as dictates into the track with some poor studio guy typing madly away to keep up. A news story wired in from some alternate retrofuture 1980.
The one abiding regret of my days as a club DJ in the 1988-89 "rare groove" era: that I never properly plugged this belter of a track to my mixed gay/lesbian/straight/bi crowd of MA1-wearing "Smash Clause 28" barricade-stormers.
To my continued astonishment, we then managed to get all the way through the 1990s and out the other side, without a David Morales or a Clivilles/Cole drafting in a Kym Mazelle or a Jocelyn Brown for the rattle-yer-freedom-rings circuit party remake. Good thing or bad thing? Ooh, I could swing either way.
Day-glo decals on brushed denim hotpants. Free your mind and your ass will follow!
Let-it-all-hang-out off-Broadway love-ins. Try a trio! Try a trio! To Capricorn and Pisces add a Leo!
Lurex gowns bursting through lamé disco-slash-curtains. I don't care what people say, I'm gonna do it anyway!
A lost anthem for a forgotten revolution.
I wasn't around in the '60s or early '70s, but I have the feeling that most of the cover tunes recorded back then were done in the spirit of creating/cultivating a new "popular songbook," where the material was seen as a thing greater, more durable, more monolithic than the young and relatively unproven artists trying their hand at it. Funny thing is, a lot of those pop standards and their songwriters (Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro, the very early work of Randy Newman) fell well below the cultural radar after a while, and the once-unproven interpreters are now, by and large, very very famous even today.
One songwriter young people know (young meaning "my age," which I realize isn't that young) is Cat Stevens, either because they've seen Harold and Maude or they're aware that he's a has-been hippie who's now a controversial fundamentalist Muslim. He wasn't known as a hitmaker for other musicians, but he did get covered by a group whose already accomplished frontwoman would go on to become a living freaking legend.
Sixties/seventies pop music wasn't the wonderful rainbow of inclusivity that idealists wish it was (that fantastical world where the Top 40 was colorblind, gender-neutral, and genre-oblivious). Record companies had marketing savvy and wanted to sell product. If black R&B singers wanted to be taken seriously as artists AND put food on the table, they'd have to go after the newly moneyed baby boomers, "sophisticated" college grads eager to consume high culture while remaining socially conscious and all that jazz. Nina Simone cornered this market; Roberta Flack as well. Aretha Franklin recorded one of the definitive versions of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Less famously, a 1972 album by LaBelle kicked off with the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again." The LP's title track was a funked-out, slow-burning, poetically licentious nine-and-a-half-minute treatment of Cat Stevens' three-minute folk throwaway "Moonshadow." It wasn't reverent, it didn't cautiously lift the song with chopsticks; it took naff new-age candy floss and turned it into elaborate space-gospel with hot legs and a sense of humor.
(The flipside to all this is that later in the '70s, all the old-line respectable rock dudes had to adapt to changing trends so no matter what else they were doing they all made their obligatory disco songs. Cat Stevens too. There was no use for him in the 1977 world -- you couldn't spit without hitting a better and more relevant artist that year -- but somehow, a perky proto-electro rollerskating jam named "Was Dog a Doughnut" found its way onto his Izitso album and became a minor hit.)