Explosions in the Sky - interview

This morning I talked to Munaf Rayani, guitarist with post-rock outfit Explosions in the Sky. The band are touring Australia early next year as part of almost a year and a half of tour's on the back of All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone, a smouldering, beautiful/terrible composition of songs. Manuf was a great guy to talk to, his answers compelling and insightful. At times he would almost begin to whisper when talking about his relationship with music and the respect he feels for audiences, at other times he would draw out important words with great emphasis. The transcript to this interview is below.

Where are you at the moment?
I just made it back home. A few days ago we played our last show of the year which was in Barcelona, and we came home a few days ago and now we have nothing to do for the rest of the year, and what a feeling! To be home!

It's a change as well, because you've been touring constantly pretty much since the release of All Of A Sudden..., is that right?
Pretty much, there was a little bit of a forced break that came along in the middle of the year in which we had to cancel a good number of events because one of the boys, their mother had gotten quite sick and so he had to go home to tend to her and we had to cancel a few months of tour. But since then, she's feeling much better, and we picked back up around August and were doing something every month until last week!

And what's it been like touring?
Man, it's been pretty great so far, especially with this new album there's been a greater interest in every city that we come too, just because it's the fourth album out and we've been around for a little while now. But it's been rather spectacular, I mean like showing up to rooms and them being full and we are the headliners, there's no other bands after us and so it's kind of nice to see that people would come out and listen. So it's been really great.

So do you think this album is where you've reached critical mass, where you sort of 'broke' as it were?
Sure. I think that possibly, we made a really loud bang with the previous album The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place, which came out you know, four years ago almost, and I think we did right by that album. I feel, in my heart of hearts, that it kind of placed us on the map, properly, in which you could see this little iddy biddy dot, "that's Explosions in the Sky" when prior to that I don't even think we showed up on the map. And then, still, with this new album, in my opinion and it's only one man's opinion, I think the songs are very good and very strong that it only made that dot a little bit bigger. So I feel like it really started the previous album, but it's definitly become more solidified with this latest record, which you couldn't hope for anything better - you know, I think that the goal or the daydream for any musician or artist is to do better with every outing.

Certainly. You guys also played with the Smashing Pumpkins on their Zeitgeist tour recently. How was that?
We didn't know what to expect going into a massive tour like that, because, you know, some of the stories that we've heard along the way with a band opening up for a major act like that - usually the crew doesn't give a fuck about you, the crowd isn't interested - it has the great potential of just being a shite state of affairs, but very luckily for us it went amazingly. The crew treated us with the utmost amount of respect, and the crowd every night - who pretty much 90, 95 percent of them hadn't heard of us - were responding in a ridiculous manner to where we were like "oh my goodness, this really worked". So the tour really did right by us, and met Billy a couple of times along the way and he had some nice things to say, but especially like Jimmy Chamberlain. Jimmy Chamberlain was watching the show pretty much every night from sidestage and then would have something to say to us, like "god boys, you really did good", and that was kind of strange, like, "thank you, Jimmy Chamberlain!"

Coz All Of A Sudden... has been out for almost a year now, do you still play most of it at shows?
Definitly, well we mainly play two tracks for sure which is Welcome, Ghosts and Catastrophe and the Cure, show up pretty much every night. But with all these new touring plans for this next year, for the next six months, we intend on bringing at least, all of them, so the five - how many songs on that album?

Right, so we're going to try and get them all playable at a live show. Because a couple of them involve piano and we're always a little bit strange about bringing a little, it's like a nice piano keyboard that we have, so incorporating that into the show as another piece of equipment onstage and regardless, we intend on trying to play most of that, entire album on this next tour with a couple of other things we're going to bring out of the past just to make the show a little bit more diverse, we do our best to change up the set every night.

I was sort of wondering when you're composing albums, if you sort of arrange it 'at once', as it were - All Of A Sudden... doesn't so much seem like individual songs as it does one really strong composition. So I was wondering how that translates into live, like do you ever play an album from first song to last?
No we don't, but we tend not to break our set - so each song will transition into the next, which makes it a little bit exciting for us on tour - if the set is changing up every night, you've gotta figure out how song A connnects to song B, which connects to song C, you know what I mean? So we've figured out some transitions between songs - "okay, this one's going to go well to this one" - but that's where it gets kind of exciting for us to kind of find out that transition on a nightly basis. So an album that sits by itself from song one to song six, and it's blending all together, which sometimes happens out of just pure luck - like we don't sit down and write track one, and then two and then three - we've written this batch of songs and then placed them in an order in which the connect nicely. So the same kind of idea applies when comprising a set.

So that means each night has it's own little bit of improvisation?
Yeah definitly. Improvisation is not something we're very good at, but it makes us at least try, you know. And some nights it's just really terrible - like that song does not connect to that song - but other nights notes will just hit together and it will be like, "wow, that worked", and then all of a sudden we've transitioned into the next track and it's properly started. So it definitly offers a room for improvisation but it's not something that we seek out actively.

I was wondering as well, now you've been playing these songs for a long time as well, has your relationship with them changed?
Definitly, you know this new batch of songs were cause for a little bit of nervousness because them being fresh songs, playing them live as to all the other songs we've been playing for a number of years to where we've become so comfortable with them that we can all pretty much play them eyes closed, and not even have to really think on it. But with these new tracks, okay, you have to refocus, you have to almost reprogram like, "okay, my fingers have to move this way" or "the beat is changing now, the melody's changing now", but since we've been playing them since February in proper live settings, I've noticed at least, in my playing, it's become more comfortable, more natural. Like I can move easier with the songs, I don't feel as rigid as I once was, but I think that comes with anything that you do repeatedly, that if it's not getting stronger then something's wrong with you. So, I think that the opportunity of playing them repeatedly has offered them to become more comfortable and thus more enjoyable.

What inspires your band to write music? Is it an attempt to express something emotional, is it more sort of, studied? Or is it more of a narrative?
I think that it might have a piece of all those things. But you know, we're inspired by all things - I mean the actions of people, the state of the world, a book that we may have read, a film that we may have seen, other bands that we have met or heard - all these things play as an inspiration as I would imagine they do for anybody, whether you play music or not, you know? If you worked in an office, and this music - whatever the band was that you were listening to - offered a feeling to you, okay, there's an inspiration in whatever it is that you're doing in your life. So with us, the same thing applies. We're taken by all things. Some in a good way - most in a good way, some in a bad way - but they all have their place in our songwriting. Because I believe that we try to give a proper representation of the world through our eyes through these notes.

That makes sense, because a lot of people have said, well you get that whole 'cinematic' tag, that every band does that tends towards post-rock, but for me, I find the album works best when I'm sort of travelling somewhere, or thinking about things, and that more fits with what you're saying.
Oh yeah, I think so, exactly. I mean, we've gotten a number of people who've said, "you know, I was just on a long trip and I was just listening to the album and staring out of a window" - well that's great because we stare out of a lot of windows, and this is what we see. And so even if a little bit matches up for whoever is listening, then we're definitly winning right?

For sure, well for me - two of my best friends just left for America for a few months, and I'm moving out of my old home and I'm not sort of sure where I'm at, and I've been listening to All Of A Sudden constantly, and it's kind of helped me out in a strange way. Can you tell me why?
I don't know - I'm glad to hear that it is helping you out, because it helps me out - already something you and I have in common. But I don't know, that would be a question of 'what is it that art does for one?' and that goes far beyond music as well.

I love, too, with your music there's something open about it, so you can sort write your own meanings into it, if you know what I mean?
Yeah exactly, and that's something else we're very conscious about, while we have our stories, we have our scenes in our head with each of these songs, by no means are they the story, and I would hope that anybody that listens to it - this music is your's to have, here, it's your's. Okay, we wrote and it our name is on it, but it's far from ours. You follow?

Definitly. And does that come through at shows, do you think?
I hope so. Another thing that we try when we get ready to play a show, or when we're talking about shows with whoever - the goal is to have, for that hour, the four of us are doing our best to get lost, to forget about what is happening outside of that room, so I hope that anybody that is in that room with us is also getting lost. Because, here, there is no right and there is no wrong and there is no trouble and worry, there's just us, and there's this sound, and I hope that it's doing something for you. Because when we're playing on stage, you know we're doing our best to get into it I think we tend to, I don't know, we go into - and this kind of an extreme thing to say because it's not as far as that - but a trance-like state where we're all truly lost in the melody and the movement of the song, and when we play I hope that that one feels these notes, listening as much as I'm offering and playing them. I guess it's hard to describe but I often say it's a battle with the spirits. There's all these spirits in the room and their trying to sweep away my feet and get in my way so I have to duck and I have to dodge, I have to play these notes to try and cut through and get to the ears of that person in the front row, that person in the last row, up at the balcony or by the bar. So I hope that when they're in the room watching this show, that they're taking much more from it, than just the melody.

So it's almost a gift then?
Ah, well, sure. But it's as much of a gift to me that someone is sitting there offering their attention, and that's one of the greatest things that anyone can offer in this life, is their attention, their time. Because more than anything else in this life, those things are priceless, those things you cannot buy. So I would think, anyone who is listening to the album or coming to the shows is because you're offering your offering your time to us, and that's, shit, that's expensive.

Speaking of time, it's been like a really long time that you guys have been together now, and I was going to ask how does it feel - is it comforting, or just normal? Is it still awesome to play as Explosions in the Sky?
Yeah, when we sit down and really think on it. I mean, it's easy to get lost in it's routine, that we have been doing this for a number of years now - we're but a step a way from ten years of Explosions, we're coming up on our ninth year. So when doing anything that long, it can become routine. But when we stop, and really talk with each other, or take a look at where we are, goddam man, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, and it is pretty spectacular that we are still getting to do this, at this level, and it only seems to be getting better with every day. It just seems to be clicking on all the right levels, the sequence of notes is working, and so I hope that we can keep coming up with those, because we truly enjoy it, because this is our life. And while we've had a number of troubles individually, you know as anybody does, those troubles have been eclipsed by the beauty that music has offered us, not only listening but now playing, you know?

It's awesome really. Finally, I was going to ask, what's up next for you guys? I know you've got shitloads more touring, it extends into March as far as I can see, but apart from that are you going to get a chance to sit down and write?
Yeah, we won't catch the right time to write until, well touring will go all the way through June, I believe mid-June will be the last show of the whole run, and it's going to be in Russia, which is incredible, we're going to Moscow for the first time in our lives. And that'll be the last show of this whole rollercoaster ride that begins in January. But after that, after June, we're going to take a decent amount of time, upwards to a year, if not more, and not tour. Sure we'll do a one-off here and there but we will not have any proper big tours planned, so that we can offer the appropriate amount of focus and time to writing music, do it justice. We don't want to just sit down and write a song, write an album, in a few weeks or in a month - because one, we can't even do that, but two, we don't want to do that. But it's after that point that we will really, really put our heads down and start writing new music, and I'm just as curious as the next man of what that's going to sound like.

How's that though, it will have been almost a year and a half that you've been touring off of this album, that's just amazing isn't it?
Yeah, definitly. But that's the process, or a process, in achieving whatever it is that one wants to achieve. So you know when we write an album, we could usually just sit at home and let it cook on it's own, but it may not bloom as quickly as say touring, if you go tour on it. Then it offers people to see it live and hear it in different settings, and push it further. So I think that going to do these tours is going to be only a good thing for the long term. So while we've been on this ride for a little under a year now, okay, we offer six more months to it and we've really given this album it's fair shake in us promoting it. So after that, hopefully we've made a good enough mark that will sustain for a year or two years until we come back around, you know.


i will give up this house also, and his shape

geographical imaginations

Music produces space. Statement of the obvious, I know, but music plays a unique, often hidden, and sensuous role in place making, both physical and thematic. Get Lonely, of course, is about getting lost, and the very meaning of loneliness is spatial. As such, above all it is a music of place, of empty, lonely places. On this album space is a much a metaphor as a an actual lived landscape - spatialised, physical motifs and allusions abound throughout the album, so that John Darnielle might build up walls in which to lose himself, or trace a dreamlike (un)making of places that sound experienced and yet not quite there anymore.

Because space is as much about time as it is about place, and most of the scenes here seem like those from the past, always just behind us - that's slightly depressing, if somewhat relieving too. They are oddly detached tableaux, like we were looking at poorly projected super 8 stills scratched and dark. Yet still meticulously detailed. Building the most affective of occupied moments from the smallest suggestions, metonyms of a distinct geography of alienation, erasure and darkness. Dark highways "where unlucky stray dogs bleed"; hidden flowers on hillsides no one ever sees; half-light, empty streets; empty houses, morning chilled. So many empty houses, often in early morning, all closed in, looking out at winter weather.

Musically, the album eschews Darnielle's trademark frantic strumming that whacked around on The Sunset Tree, in favour of quieter band arrangements and even quieter string sections, at moments approaching the sepia-tones of Sodastream's softer work. The music is at times languid, lethargic even. The aural sense of a dark, stunted loss at the centre of the record.

The beginning drum pattern and steel shakes of New Monster Avenue remind me hugely of Grand Salvo, an artist who with the same sort of instrumentation seems to evoke a dusty, Australian desert. Here, however, these steely frames seem to produce nothing but an empty house: "shadows on the broad, canopy of trees / sometime after midnight, the ground is gonna freeze". Starkly insulated, there is no one here, even when people are there - the title track:
"I will rise up early and dress myself up nice
and I will leave the house and check the deadlock twice.
and I will find a crowd and blend in for a minute
and I will try to find a little comfort in it.
and I will get lonely and gasp for air.
and send your name up from my lips like a signal flare.
and I will go downtown, stand in the shadows of the buildings
and button up my coat, trying to stay strong, spirit willing.
and I will come back home, maybe call some friends,
maybe paint some pictures,
it all depends.
and I will get lonely and gasp for air.
and look up at the high windows, and see your face up there."

The sense of territory here is constantly uplifted, as Darnielle takes sad, slow migratory movements across and within each track, drifting through settings that never seem to settle (him). Not that it's so much a journey - one of the most affecting realisations of Get Lonely is that there is truly no narrative here, only incremental stumbles into different places, none more resolved than the last. A wandering, vagrant suspension in somewhere (nowhere?), lost and cold, frozen emotions.

Moon Over Goldsboro: "I lay down in the weeds, it was a real cold night / I was happy until the overnight attendant switched on the floodlight" - light as pain - all shades and shadows hurt here. "Frost on the sidewalk, white as a bone / Tried to get close to you again, always wake up alone". Ghosts.

"I turned my face away and I shut my eyes tight
and dreamed about the flowers that hide from the light on dark hillsides
in the hidden places."
From In the Hidden Places, an image that almost captures (and capture is the right word here) the kind of place Get Lonely takes you to, a harsh and hard place to be, one you only escape when the cd clicks off twelves songs later after In Corolla, where Darnielle and we finally disappear into the water's vertical horizon.

The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely


suffer for fashion

Of Montreal and Commercial Culture
a speculative analysis of Kevin Barnes' penis, Outback Steakhouse, Selling Out and the feminine consumptive sphere

Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes registers a strange form of aggressive glam, a kind of masculinist femininity. Quite happy to dress up glitzy at shows (or not dress in much at all), sings high-voiced in vaudevillian disco tracks and takes Jean Genet as his idol (who was also one of Bowie's, in turn another of Barnes'). Yet underneath all this Patrick Wolf-esque sheen (segue - are we seeing a reemergence of a much-needed camp aesthetic in the dullness of indie?), lies a strangely pathological kind of masculinity - it's certainly not your run of the mill jock type, but it's still there - most of the songs on Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? spend their time blaming his wife for their (now-resolved) breakup and his subsequent breakdown, crafting the female as romantic succubus.

"there's the girl that left me bitter / want to pay some other girl to just walk up to her and hit her" (She's a Rejector)

"Eva, I'm sorry, but you will never have me / to me, you're just some faggy girl / and I need a lover with soul power" (Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider)

No lyrics better register the congealed and confused sexuality/violence of Barnes persona.

Now, how might all of this fit in with Barnes now avowed happiness to willfully commercialise his music? I say avowed because Barnes penned a 1000+ word diatribe to Stereogum and its readers in anticipatory response to backlash from a new ad featuring not only the band's music - as was done last year when Outback Steakhouse hilariously covered their Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games - but the members themselves discussing their 're-reunion' (LOL!) in relation to some swanky new mobile phone. He entitled the essay, 'Selling Out Isn't Possible', part of which follows:

The pseudo-nihilistic punk rockers of the 70's created an impossible code in which no one can actually live by. It's such garbage. The idea that anyone who attempts to do anything commercial is a sell out is completely out of touch with reality. The punk rock manifesto is one of anarchy and intolerance. The punk rockers polluted our minds. They offered a solution that had no future. Of course, if the world would have ended before Sandinista! was released then everything would have been alright. It didn't. Now we have all of these half-conceived ideas and idiot philosophies floating around to confuse and alienate us. I think it is important to face reality. It is important to decide whether you are going to completely rail against the system or find a way to make it work for you. You cannot do both -- and if you attempt to do both you will only become even more bitter and confused.

He also goes on to describe the machinations of capitalism through a metaphor about sucking cocks and slitting throats (there he goes again, getting all sexually bloody). Nevertheless, the main 'thrust' of his more or less convincing argument is that 'selling out' (licensing your songs/image to other companies) is a good way for struggling indie artists to make a bit on the side and thereby continuing making the albums we love.

Now I'm not going to stray entirely into the perennial anti/capitalist debate over selling out and integrity and all that, but rather enter it from a sort of oblique angle, one that Barnes perceptively discusses himself and one that got me thinking about all this in the first place: the punk ethos. As that chunky quote from his essay above signals, Barnes argues that it is the contribution of punk to the formation of indie that makes the (sub)culture so strongly hostile to any kind of commercialisation. These comments clearly articulate with the longstanding notion of the maintenance of 'authenticity' and purity within musical groups, initiated by punk and certainly inherited by indie. The indie quest for an imagined state of purity is one of a strong antithesis to the always present, in fact, defining mainstream (that being one of the main problems of indie, it's constant need for this monolithic other to conceive itself against, an imagined fulcrum). Part of this quest is the clear repudiation of the 'pollutants' of mainstream corporate culture and the recognition of consumption of its products as a betrayal. Blah blah. This sort of stuff pops up all the time. Barnes takes issue with those music fans for whom apparently a strange form of transvaluation occurs between a music and the activities of its producer that forever strips the pure musical expression of its untainted meaning. This notion of 'tarnished' music pops up remarkably often with indie fans, who regularly comment how a musician 'ruins' 'their' (and here the possessive noun seems to somehow refer to the fan more so than the artist) music - see, for example, the backlash against Bradford Cox. Indie fans somehow manage to abstract this music from what is already an inevitably commercial ('sold out') system of production (or, moreover, consumption) and then lambaste any other form of money-making that doesn't have a clear aesthetic (i.e., purely musical) goal. So I hear you, Kev, when you say stuff like:

People who wanna be artists have the hardest time of it 'cause we are held up to these impossible standards. We're expected to die penniless and insane so that the people we have moved and entertained over the years can keep us to themselves. So that they can feel a personal and untarnished connection with our art. The second we try to earn a living wage or, god forbid, promote our art in the mainstream, we are placed under the knives of the sanctimonious indie fascists.

But I'm not so much arguing one way or the other here, nor am I drawing battle lines between fans and producers as if one holds the moral key. Rather, I'm crapping on about all this to get to a point I do find quite interesting in relation to Of Montreal especially, how this prototypically indie anti-commercial/mainstream ethos registers as a strongly masculinist stance. It is an ideology of exclusion, as Moore notes: "notions of anticommercial authenticity are inseperable from anxieties about mass culture and consumerism which echo Oedipal fears of castration and male uneasiness about stereotypically feminine attributes, such as passivity and vanity" (from 'Postmodernism and Punk Subculture'). In the grammar of indie, independence is 'sterilised' or 'tarnished' by commodification outside pure musical expression and thus within the mainstream, which absorbs and domesticates these acts. This ideological coupling of the feminine with the consumptive still holds strong even in our pervasively consumerist society - witness the conclusion to this year's Superbad, it's telling the space in which the two male protagonists and close friends Evan and Seth are finally torn asunder after their adolescent bonding experience: the mall. And this separation of male comrades is inextricably tied to the young women they pair off with, and thus we have the feminised sphere of consumption.

Now, we begin to tenuously tie these strings together, with an initial recognition that although he may have 'sold out' in the indie/punk sense of the term, Barnes cock is still firmly in place (no "fears of castration"), wilfully paraded around, in fact. Not only, but Barnes is quite happy to Suffer for Fashion ("stereotypically feminine attributes") whilst doing so. We might secondly note that there is a quite definite overlap between the aesthetics of Of Montreal and that of advertising culture - both quite glossy (even though Barnes' version is intentionally shambolic) and stylised - how else would Wraith Pinned to the Mist... translate so easily into an advertising jingle? And it's really no surprise that you'd find the band themselves all dressed up in their trademark wacky attire in this new T-mobile meta-ad.

So, the crux (crutch?) of it: Barnes has successfully found a way to negotiate these sexualised streams, by paradoxically retaining a form of very-visibile masculinity of success and violence underneath the feminine ways of style and consumption, or 'selling out'. "Selling Out Isn't Possible" for Barnes because, consciously or not, he knows that he can capitulate to commercial culture and still walk away with his dick intact, in fact he can use his well-manicured tackle as the prime agent of his successful reconciliation of the feminine and masculine in capitalism.

Of Montreal - Suffer For Fashion

(Stay tuned next post for a literary analysis of the existential vacuum suggested by Outback Steakhouse's re-jingling of Wraith Pinned to the Mist... ("let's go Outback tonight / Life will still be there tomorrow")*



ignore the last post...

... it's still there, just under more covers.

Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover

It's still a carnival, more cluttered and baroque than ever before, but this time it's as if the magic holding it together, seeping from under the surface (you often smelt it when things went quiet for a while), is no longer there. Profoundly disturbing, and yet somehow still iridescent.


Sigur Ros 'Heima' / Forum II / 29 Oct 2007

"Filmed and recorded entirely on location in Iceland"

This epigraph, which is actually Heima's postscript, really says it all. The film performs Sigur Rós relationship to their homeland, as they in turn perform to, within and for their environment.


Before we saw the film tonight, and thus before I go on to discuss it, Sigur Rós gave us a short acoustic set. They played three songs, with only piano, acoustic guitar and bass, and drums. Such a set was obviously disarmingly stripped down for Sigur Rós, whose majesty is normally glanced under mountains of electric effects of terrifying and awe-some heaviness. Yet even through such unplugged 'quietness' were Sigur Rós able to effect an aching beauty through their masterful knowledge of musical texture. Nevertheless, such a performance was indeed a strange set up for the film, which itself would largely choose to follow the band's recorded works' incessant privileging of moving, baroque aesthetics.

Yet in many ways this short performance was in tune with many other dimensions to the band that would so easily seem to slot into more traditional, linear notions of creativity; they seem to let their art do the talking - evident not only in their crafting of 'Hopelandic' (a made-up language used by singer Jón Þór Birgisson on many of their songs) but also their trademark curtness when it comes to answering questions displayed tonight at the anti-climactically underwhelming Q&A session following the film. Sigur Rós seem at all times to say 'let the art speak for itself' in very linear forms of representation. But as tonight's three-pronged performance assemblage (set, film, Q&A) would prove, no matter how it might seem, Sigur Rós constitute a truly limitless, interlinked, radical practice that escapes definition even within itself - demonstrated most fruitfully between the contradictions that would show up between what I am about to go on to describe in the film, and the performance and Q&A bookending it. 'Reading between the lines' for these paradoxes should be easy enough, and now back to the film.


Heima translates to 'at home'. This amazingly pretty film plays out, works through and presents, a band's relationship with home - the narrative surfaces, as it were, how Sigur Rós' music is conceived and how it comes to take place. Because cultural production is entirely mappable - but that isn't to say that it's also reflective (or that culture=nature). Because no matter how much critics (me included) might employ an arsenal of environmental, scenic metaphors to describe this band's music - glacial, otherworldly, icey, etc. - Heima demonstrates emphatically that the relationship between a band's music and their environment (metonyms of culture and nature) is never settled, and never simply a matter of mirroring or reflection. All throughout the film, for instance, never is there anything like an easy correspondence between sound (music) and film image (which by extension we could say is the landscape) - they are always intermezzo, in between - fuzzy and proliferate - like the reverse footage of waterfalls and mist, or the interspersions of the audience arriving and then applauding (which we see but don't 'hear') periodically through the 'proper' footage of the band performing the penultimate song Popplagið. Indeed, as the film tracks the journey of Sigur Rós through continually more breathtaking and beautiful landscapes and different performance venues, it actually shows how their performance narrative collapses the distinction between nature and culture. Their relationship is so complex, intertwined, at times disjunctive and contradictory, at others more mimetic, that any clear cut between the two is simply impossible and furthermore, unwanted.

Such is most explicit when the band visit a man who finds different fallen slate rocks that vary in tone to make 'geological marimbas', which the band then proceed to play inside a cave. Although this is the clearest instance, continually does the film refuse to separate out (and thus propose a simplistic mirror or equally simplistic ignorance) music making and locale. Throughout, Sigur Rós literally embed their performances of songs within certain places - inside old fishing factories, at the site of a flooded dam and various other landscapes, churches, and so on. And as the film progresses, we see that they not only perform for their landscape, but that they indeed enact it.

Such obviously ties to the obvious purpose of the performances (a series of free, unannounced concerts throughout Iceland in 2006) as about 'giving back' to the people and the land that they create from, in many ways quite literally - the concerts are free and open; one of the members of Amiina (Sigur Rós' backing string quartet) mentions how the local press described this as a noble undertaking, one that instilled a sense of inclusiveness and national pride, even. Furthermore, the performance at the site of the flooded dam, Snæfellsskála, politicises itself through form - the band choose not to use a generator because that would be complicit in many ways with the same aluminum companies responsible for flooding Snæfellsskála, who want to use the location to extract power. As such, this song is performed entirely acoustically, and captured on only camera microphone. Here we can hear and even see the sound of the environment as it plays Sigur Rós and as they play it - the grainy quality of the sound through wind - this is a distinct moment in the film as it shuns the almost hyperreal aesthetics of many other perfectly captured and post-mixed performances, Heima thereby instituting and demanding a politics of sound in difference to itself. That is not to say that the other moments of 'hyperclarity' (if anything Heima is an argument for digital film) of vision and sound are insignificant, in fact it is probably these moments that intimate the profundity of the film and this band. Like the moments when the excess of sound from a performance shown ruptures not only the devices used to record it but those that present it to us, thereby spilling over outside of the text, shaking the stage of the forum - shaking our very bodies.

To the point: this film, this love letter to Iceland, this sonic postcard, shows the very overwhelming 'livingness' of space - although many camera shots are static, the film presents an almost always overpowering visual and aural aesthetics of excessive beauty that causes one to simply realise that this place (and indeed, this very film - which is another matter entirely; but for now I think about the unbelievable feeling of whole-body goosebumps I got when I saw and heard and moreover felt Starálfur, and how Heima is somehow more than being at the concerts shown) is alive, breathing and animate - and it is continually (re)animated through Sigur Rós' music, through sound. There is no split between nature and culture, there is actually no distinction - instead there is the knowledge that everything, everywhere is a sounding board - the revelation of the overwhelming physicality of music that Heima presents. Watching (hearing, feeling) this film is an entry into the absolute limitlessness of nature's continually unfolding, shifting sonic texture, that eventually can no longer be understood (my attempt here has undoubtedly failed to convey the experience) but must be felt.


Radiohead - In Rainbows

At the risk of sounding absurd, I actually think the now-infamous way in which Radiohead distributed their seventh longplayer is more complicated and requires longer contemplation than In Rainbows itself. For that reason, I'll shy away from looking at the significance of the 'you choose how much', zero hour, online release to give a quick comment on what we're actually left with: the album.

Warm and Lucid…

For a band that has spent most of their career yoking alienation, this seems like a strange summary of any of their work. But, for me, that's what In Rainbows is, an inviting album of astounding clarity.

From the first track 15 Step, when Yorke's voice and off-kilter drums emerge of out what would be the normal Radiohead sludge and uncertainty around 30 seconds in, to the final, gripping piano (every key just hits you) of Videotape, everything announces itself immediately, and shines with a rare lucidity. I'm not saying that Radiohead have previously preferred a mushy mix, but just listen to the way that the bass pops in on 15 Step, the deeply resonating acoustic guitar of Faust Arp, and so on - you can HEAR it all, and it sounds... beautiful. Just listen to the way Weird Fishes resolves itself into Arpeggi.

Again, Radiohead have always been heavily affecting, and beautiful, but the WARMTH on display here is truly amazing, considering the drawn-out anger of Hail To the Thief and the alien, ice-brittle electronics of Kid A (and its cousin, Amnesiac). Sure, Yorke is still exploring the parameters of isolation, pervasive ennui and so on, but musically the album tells a different story. Listen to the strings, a returning motif throughout the album, and you can't help but be truly enveloped by the beauteous quality of this music. The textures are overall softer, the sentiment less evil (maybe tending towards apathetic, but then that doesn't quite describe it either).

For me, the highlight of the album is that which it explicitly foregrounds: the drums. They are so varied and crucial here. Kind of like signal stations, tripperer-upperers, skeletons, flesh, who knows what exactly. But they are unique, and they just bring you in. Maybe it’s this percussion that helps me from feeling lost like I normally might when I listen to Radiohead; it certainly seems that way on Reckoner.

Radiohead have always established a relationship of beauty in spite of - tugging at the listener's emotion from great distances, folding over alienation and identification. For the first time, In Rainbows simply presents itself as beautiful, and invites you in.

(get it for yourself, name your price)

everything ever

(Please note, none of this is terribly insightful; it has been said better in many different places and forms - songs, for instance.)

Firing connections...

When I interviewed Mike Lindsay, co-founder of Tunng, about the band's new album Good Arrows, I asked him about the idea of anomie and inclusion that seems to pervade the record, signalled by the endless things crashing together on the album cover and in song titles (all one word word; String, Hands, Spoons, and so on).
It’s very much about humanity, and this life and what you can take from it ... it's about enjoying the everyday little things, which you kind of overlook, and I think that's what the artwork and the titles of the songs are about - the single, very small objects or things that when you put them together can kind of make something a little bit more beautiful or full.

This reminded me of watching Melbourne band Deloris around the beginning of this year when they launched Ten Lives. Frontman Marcus Teague is a person so full of ideas that they overflow into the surreal banter inbetween songs. In little narratives he paraphrases the songs about to be played and what they're about, bringing up these amazing, apparently spontaneous connections between things.

Deloris and Tunng both offer us a different way of looking at the explosion of 'things' in our everyday lives, the totality of objects, as other than overwhelming or trivial (objects of a exponentially increasing consumer society). It's something akin to animism, but maybe it's even plainer than that - it's simply about learning to invest things with meaning, and to understand that 'everything' is significant and joyous, rather than monolithic or oppressive.

Of course, the way in which each band works through this idea differs. Tunng seem to offer a sort 'the whole is greater than the sum' idea, whereas Deloris reach for a kind of 'Everything Ever' (the title of a song) sameness. And that's not a bland, debilitating sameness either. In fact, when sameness is stigmata and escalating difference is chief production of late capitalism, it seems to me that these forms of inclusiveness are redemptive and social, in the most banal and meaningful sense of that word.

Amongst other things, Good Arrows works through modern life's ability to fragment us, and our communal attempts (they're lyrical address is always a 'we') at putting ourselves and things back together. It's not unequivocally positive, to be sure, but then that would be idealistic. Tunng are more concerned with surfacing, not so much optimism.

Deloris span landscapes, histories, generations, and establish connections everywhere. Emmy Hennings mentioned how the circular form of Teague's writing sort of embodies this:
He's one of those fairly unusual writers who, particularly in his solo output, likes to write lyrics than resemble a very long string - lines run into and over each other and the volume of words always threatens to spill over, to erupt - into what I'm not sure. Outside the boundaries of the song?

And Deloris use the inclusive address, too. Says Teague:
Just thinking about the 'we' point of view on Woah Oh - the idea, this is going to sound really pompous but, the idea is that you can transcend your own time. In my brain, each verse was addressing a kind of thing that exists, like wood, or smoke, or rock or something like that and then seeing how that has existed in the past, referencing that, referencing how it exists now and how it could exist in the future.

The overflowing beauty of the world itself, the world we (will) live(d) in.

Deloris – Woah Oh

Tunng - Bullets


before the night owl


Radiohead: In Rainbows; free as a bird.


smash a kangaroo

(con)temporary has been getting a little political lately, but I can't help it. The following is a little touchy (and possibly a really flawed, weak argument), so please disagree if you see any problems, but it's just an initial response to something that really disappointed me.

Recently I came across this music project Heaps Decent, an awesome non-profit music initiative that "intends to seek out young indigenous and underprivileged artists and change Australian club music forever" by connecting popular recording artists with these kids and providing resources, skills development and performance opportunities. Radical hey? In light of Emmy Hennings recent article in mess+noise, The Dismissal, in which she asks, "In this election year why does so little Australian music matter politically?", Heaps Decent is a highly topical and radically positive project in light the of oppressive government 'intervention' into Aboriginal communities and continued lack of support for basically any marginalised Australian communities Howard has shown. Sure it might not actually produce structural changes (as if music alone could?), but by giving these kids a voice through popular, mainstream artists it certainly gets the word out there. Sounds great right?

Well it is, but it's also fairly depressing when you learn that it took an international artist to actually fly in here and set the thing up. This isn't an initiative spearheaded by politically conscious Australian musicians (an extinct species?) but DJ/producer Diplo. Dude's a legend - I remember at this year's Big Day Out he completely overstepped all the patriotic bullshit around the flag-waving issue by wearing a tee with the Australian Aboriginal flag - and now he's bought out Heaps Decent, recording a track with some indigenous hip-hop kids called Smash a Kangaroo to launch the project (streaming at the Myspace). Clearly I'm not knocking Diplo, but it's just sad that it took him to come up with this.

And now the project's started up, and is being run by Aussies Andrew Levins and Nina Agzarian, you'd think there'd be a bunch of established Australian artists clamouring to get on board? Well I recently read that another international artist has recorded a track for the project - M.I.A. Again, she's a legend - extremely politically conscious - and she's dropped a track with students at an all-girls school in a juvenile justice centre! According to the Heaps Decent blog, the song's probably called Popo Mind Control and is officially "the HOTTEST CLUB TRACK YOU EVER HEARD!". Well if there's no Australian artists involved (yet), you'd at least think our press is paying attention right? Wrong - even though its been featured in high-profile international media like NME and Pitchfork, apart from Sydney's FBi our outlets have been a little slow (ie. nonexistent) on the uptake.

Now, again, I have to reiterate that I think this project is awesome, and I commend Levins and Agazarian, and any others that are running it over here in Australia. But like I said, it's disappointing that it took international artists to actually come on board to get this thing going, to me that speaks of a real dearth of not only political conscience but also conviction in Australian music in general. As Emmy said, Powderfinger and Silverchair are happy to tie their mega dollar making Across the Great Divide tour to Reconciliation Australia (good on them), but that's barely a beginning. Emmy calls for a music that offers a political challenge "as music ... that provokes, threatens, engages or discomfits", and although I agree this is needed, I think what we really need is also solid, progressive, socially linked projects like Heaps Decent, with popular Australian musicians behind them. Besides, the music advocated by Emmy, that only offers an 'evocative' political challenge, so often doesn't translate into concrete action - in fact, it may even work to blunt it (think of Love of Diagrams - are they not the perfect soundtrack to a politics of 'nothing', of inaction? Sure they might evoke a certain form of frustration felt by the electorate, but rather than channel it anywhere useful, they simply register a diffuse anger or fear (which are the same thing) that is arguably the reason why this country has lived for 11 years under perhaps its most oppressive government yet - we know we're angry, but we won't do anything about it). Heaps Decent is not only engaging its audience as music, but also powerfully connecting with social issues and lending voice to underprivileged young people. I just wish Australian acts (and media) might get behind the microphone with them.


as you toast high times on the gravy train

Media machinations and pop wars...

Former Stone Roses singer Ian Brown launched a stinging tirade against Kylie Minogue today after she was honoured as an idol at the Q Awards.
Brown, who won the Q Legend award [deservedly], told BBC Radio: "I don't think she's cute. I don't think she's good looking ... I don't know what Kylie's doing at music awards to be honest." (mX, 9.10.07, p3)

Nor it seems, does she - take a look at her 'acceptance' speech via Sky News via Courier Mail. Hilarious.

... Brown said Minogue's music was "rubbish" and "made for little kids".
"I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm putting her down but there's a lot of great minds out there making music and she's not one of them."
Accepting the award for Q Idol earlier, Minogue said: "Just don't ask me what it means but I'm very grateful and honoured to be receiving this." (mX again)

Now I don't really agree with Brown's conviction (c'mon, she's worked with Gondry; and Panda Bear lists her inside Person Pitch - indie cred ahoy! More than Kanye even?) but it's hard not to really when she serves up lines like that.

Elsewhere, described by No Rock And Roll Fun as the 'seventh most important awards' of the year ("held on a Monday lunchtime over a bare dinner table, like a head of departments meeting in a failing comprehensive, and with about as much impact"), the Q Awards were a bastion of sharp judgement: Artice Monkeys 'Best Act in the World Today' (nothing like a bit of overblown British parochialism; Britpop Mark 2) and Kaiser Chiefs' Ruby 'Best Video' (anyone who's seen this mess of thing would probably beg to differ - how about Plaster Casts of Everything, Klaxons' epic trilogy, Dr Love? To name but a few...).

Actually, Ian, love ya mate, but maybe take a squiz at the mediocre output of your own patch before trashing 'our' Kylie.

SWEET IRONY UPDATE: The ever-reliable mX reports today (11/10/07) that Amy Winehouse's "prestigious Q Award for Best album" was found left in the toilets of a London bar! Where it belongs!


for want of music

It is exactly the same with stereophonic effects. We are all obsessed (and not only in music) with high fidelity, obsessed by the quality of the musical ‘rendering’. On the console of our systems, armed with our tuners, our amplifiers and our speakers, we regulate the bass and the treble, we mix, we combine, we multiply the tracks, in search of an impeccable technique, an infallible music. I still remember a control room in a recording studio where the music, diffused on four tracks, came at once in four dimensions, and of a sudden seemed viscerally secreted in the interior, with a surreal relief… It was no longer music. Where is the degree of technological sophistication, where the threshold of ‘high fidelity’ beyond which music as it were disappears? For the problem of the disappearance of music is the same as that of history: it will not disappear for want of music, it will disappear in the perfection of its materiality, in its very own special effect. There is no longer judgment, nor aesthetic pleasure, it is the ecstasy of musicality...
(Jean Baudrillard, ‘The Year 2000 Will Not Happen’)

Sitting at my old house, where 'my' room now feels more like a fossilised teenagerhood exhibit or storage closet, listening to Amiina's new album Kurr. There's no sound system in this here, so I've got it spinning on the DVD player, which is connected via only one AV plug to a shitty old television set with a tinny monologue speaker. I lay on the bed, in quarter-light, hearing this TV courageously attempt - and inevitably fail - to hold the glassy pitch of Sogg, everything crackling and pulsating in all its imperfect materiality. It's a glorious experience; the songs come out more beautifully than ever before; suitably, as if played through a little ballerina music box. This grainy, burbling amplification presents its textures in tangible relief.

This is the supreme importance both of music as material body and affect, and of different amplification's bearing on that. Fuck fidelity. For listening to Kurr on what might be classified as the worst possible source was actually the most pleasurable musical events I've been through in a long time.

Amiina - Sogg


the joker is me

Kath & Kim - 7.30pm Sundays, Channel Seven

Ra ra ra, commercial television/culture is crap. The private television stations pander to the lowest common denominator in their attempt to sell as much audience to advertisers as they can; public television (ABC, SBS) is the last bastion of refined, progressive programming, etc. etc.

How then, can a show become significantly more politicised in its transfer from public to private broadcast? The new season of Kath & Kim is the most topical, political, progressive one yet, an uneasy albeit (or because it is) funny look at colloquial politics. First we had the "bloody Howard" stab at the IR laws and now tonight's episode went to task on new forms of racist patriotism manifesting themselves in Australia (including Border Security), hilariously.

I'm not sure how to make sense of this, or whether or not it is truly politically radical, but it sure beats silence.


Iron & Wine - Boy With a Coin

I suppose, in wanky figurative terms, the dichotomy in Sam Beam's band name is a good description of the music: intoxicating, yet brisk. Boy With A Coin is the first single from the soon-to-be-released third album, The Shepherd's Dog. I don't really know what to say about it, other than that it's quite a lovely track, it has you instantly when that circuitous guitar and clap-beat come in, and the moments when small metallic undercurrents surface are really nice.

Iron & Wine - Boy With A Coin



As you've likely recognised, this blog seems to be morphing into a bit of a place where I dump cursory, exploratory ideas about the nature of popular music, in some ways like a kind of archive of (attempted) theorisation, a sort of pile of scribbled (and scribbly) thoughts. I'd like to continue doing the whole journalistic, aesthetic rock-crit (pop-crit?) thing, alongside the occasional recommendation, but I can see this whole theory thing becoming a big part of (con)temporary. Following this...

After seeing Britney's "performance" at the MTV VMAs, I was struck with a question, one that had suggested itself before, but not as obviously as this: why do we need to critique popular culture when it regularly, constantly, critiques (or eats) itself? Further, can critical discussion only parrot what pop shows us and itself anyway? Are we simply describing pop's own critique? Is there a place for intervention?

This set of questions is obviously a significant one, one worthy of a lengthy, involved discussion, one that I can see taking place over this blog to some degree. Of course debate has been underway in academia for some time, and recently discussion, complex and sophisticated, is exploding in the blogging community. I mention this simply to stress that I'm not claiming that I am miraculously the first one to stumble across these issues - if anything I'm only replaying debates that have occured, there's probably a great number of spaces in this post that could be filled in with quotations - rather, I'm just offering my own thought on these issues.

As an initial response to these questions, my answer would probably be yes, we do still need to critique pop, whilst recognising that it is pop's nature to cannibalise itself. The challenge then, might not be to simply bring up examples of this tendency but to actually analyse this very dynamic, its parameters, politics and consequences. Of course this opens up a huge debate over the value of resistance from inside popular culture, questions of popular politics, and even the (im)possibility of theorising musical development. Whether you look at it with regards to a single case study (which many believe is the only viable way of approaching cultural phenomena and movement) or across a longer dynamic, historically or paradigmatically, is also a difficult choice.

Taking Britney's performance, we might analyse the nature of its 'failure' rather than just simply laughing at it (which is fun to do, anyway). There's heaps of things worth discussing here, two might be:

The way in which seeing this performance somehow retrospectively refracts all of Britney's past performances: it's as if by seeing this we realise that everything she's done before is just as 'inauthentic' (or 'staged') as this, but that it was just covered up slightly better. Like go back an watch any of her other videos and just try not be haunted by that image of her restlessly flicking her hair every ten seconds at the VMAs, an almost unequivocal signification of her complete unenthusiasm. Same goes for the lip-syncing thing (which we've seen many-a-time before).

Secondly, the way in which MTV utilised Britney's 'comeback' to generate hype around the VMAs; and conversely, the implicit use of the subsequently crap performance in differentiating ascendant pop stars. This bit here is crucial I think: pop often eats itself, playing on this discourse of authenticity vs inauthenticity, in order to constantly rewrite (and re-legitimate) the boundaries of what is 'authentic' (or even more generally, 'good'). This is implicit in the video of the performance which regularly flicks to developing, more image-controlled celebrities (Kanye and Rihanna - maybe not 50, we'll get to him soon...) with a bemused look of "this is crap" written across their faces. Arguably the whole 'function' (I'm aware using this word is problematic in relation to what could be an accident, nevertheless it seems like a manufactured one) of Britney's performance was simply to make these new versions look better, more in control.

It should be clear here that I'm suggesting there is gain (profit) to be made by the media industries in this (forced?) dynamic of pop eating itself, and if the Britney example isn't convincing enough, the very same event at which this occured offers another one for you - the highly contrived stoush between Kanye and 50 Cent over record sales. It's almost as if 50's 'gangsta' value is recognisably exhausted (which it is - just looking at that worried, furrowed brow on the cover of Curtis, says it all), and so this sinking ship is redeployed in order to boost record sales for Kanye. Sure this shit is fairly obvious, but it's worth thinking about nonetheless.

Up until now I've avoided questions of whether pop's critique of itself is valuable, and its definitely not something I want to (ever?) conclude on, but just as a cursory comment I'd say there are certainly things to suggest it is. If we consider Beverly Best's argument that resistance "existing in clear-cut contradistinction from the dominant culture [is] no longer relevant" (regardless of whether you fully agree with such a contentious position), then we do need to consider the 'progressive' aspects of popular culture's engagement with itself. What I'm suggesting here, is that, broadly speaking, even though the cannibalising dynamic which has arguably operated across the entire span of twentieth and twentyfirst-century music is often a strategy for profit, it also propels and provokes a constant aesthetic rewriting which itself can be broadly seen to push the limits of culture in general, and music specifically. Calabrese does a great job of theorising something resembling this dynamic in his conception of the space of culture as a sphere, the limits (borders) of which are pushed and/or exceeded by various cultural phenomena. There's an argument to be made that, by maintaining such self-referentiality and self-critique, pop continually expands the cultural sphere of possibilities of expression.

As for an aesthetic evaluation of this process, that's a whole other issue, which inevitably brings in notions of kitsch, history, serialisation, reproducibility, originality, and dozens of other concepts that I'm not going to even bother trying to consider for now. All I'll say with on that part, though, is watch this, and tell me that internal critique and something artistically valuable can't merge:

And that will do for the meta discussion, congratulations to those still reading.


holding up the mirror(ed)

I'm deeply ambivalent about Battles' Mirrored, and for those that care to know why, wait no longer:

To preface my doubts, I wonder why music critics have swallowed it so willingly, advancing it as a kind of avant-pop future-music:
Mirrored is a breathtaking aesthetic left-turn that sounds less like rock circa 2007 than rock circa 2097, a world where Marshall stacks and micro-processing go hand in hand. (P4K)
With a score of 86/100 on Metacritic, it's safe to say that critical orthodoxy around Mirrored is that it's brilliant: progressive, unique, etc. Most reviews labour the point that Mirrored short-circuits experimental aesthetics (read: oblique compositions, heavily processed vocals) and something that still really 'rocks!'

Sure, it's mathematical rock (ie. math-rock) in many ways, but in another sense its amazing how obvious (transparent) and straightforward this complexity is. In other words: its complexity is not complex; there is nothing nuanced about Battles approach, regardless of how interesting it might seem it is overwhelming diagrammatic. Its puzzling just how many (often far more cynical) critics have omitted this point in their tripping over themselves to praise the album.

I find it interesting, considering this, that Battles are taken as a kind of 'forefront' to modern music (this is often played out literally in the futuristic discourse of many of the reviews). I think in some ways this speaks to a wider problem of a lack of true experimentation, critical and nuanced, in pop music - maybe this truly is the most exciting thing at the mo'. Maybe that's the most useful mirror Battles actually hold up, if unintentionally.

Aside from these issues, and somewhat in conflict with this first objection: is cyborg music really what we want? What if everyone followed Battles algorithms? I'll stop short of saying "I don't want music played by robots" because of course I'm fully aware that all (instrumental) music is a duality of human-machine (taken broadly) - but that doesn't mean I can't be wary of a sort of music that tries to elide the 'human' part, or at most leave only tiny traces of it in warped, unintelligible vocal samples. I don't know if I want such a programmatic music, bereft of error, a style akin to instruments playing themselves.

But then again, it's got a fucking catchy rhythm.

Battles - Race: In

- Who (what) are Battles actually battling? The answer is in the album title: no one but themselves.
- Battles' experiments have been made before, it's just this band synthesises and rhythmatises them


My Disco - Trades Hall, 8/9/07

"These are / exit sounds"

My Disco are on the threshold.

My Disco are the sound of music just before it exits itself.


One note = one song.

Minimal / Powerful.

My Disco are fucking brilliant. What will they bring back from Chicago?

My Disco - Patterns Surgical


take my danger zone away

From the Top Gun (1986) soundtrack:

Kenny Loggins - Danger Zone

Berlin - Take My Breath Away

How do we even begin to comprehen
d this?

In High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood, Wyatt notes that high concept films, of which Top Gun is exemplary, depend primarily upon the mode of 'reducibility' in the basic combination of genre, stars, style, music and marketing (with the last factor likely determining). Danger Zone and Take My Breath Away are probably best understood as key epiphenomena in the marketing-textual (the two are thoroughly collapsed in high concept - it advertises itself as it screens) network of T
op Gun. Both songs, and their videos, are part of a promotional strategy for the film that seeks to fuse together the success of these songs with that of the film, not only on a financial level but also one of meaning. Both are highly simplistic, yet 'powerful', tracks, that are reducible musically to certain lines ("hiii-waay to the / dain-gah zone") or sounds (that strange 'wong wong' that persists throughout Take My Breath Away).

This is all fairly self-evident stuff, but I suppose that's exactly what's worth recognising he
re: how obvious the 'synergistic' marketing strategies and highly simplistic thematics of Top Gun (and other high concept films) were in this period. It's interesting, in part, because this was around the time in which postmodern theory was booming, and many other realms of popular culture were busy responding to this via ironic gestures and deconstructive techniques. Top Gun completely ignores, forgets and/or denies these developments, instead choosing to swing through on a level of unabashed blatancy (did I just make that word up?) that's even more spectacular for the fact that it's unchecked by any sense of self-awareness.

So the songs - let's start with Kenny Loggins' epic, in which bendy bass-synths, epic drums signalling themselves into oblivion and crunching guitars come together for one of the rockingest tracks ever. In terms of affect, its hard not to find yourself feeling the need ... THE NEED FOR SPEED, when you hear this number. So
nically (and lyrically, der) it's best described in terms aeronautical: flight, speed, g-force - and watching the clip it's just striking how strong the fit between the music and its imaging, and thus the film, is. Central to the high concept movie is something like a video clip aesthetic - quick cuts, stylised scenery, etc. - it's no wonder Danger Zone is played ad nauseam throughout the movie itself, and that Maverick himself "ride[s] into the danger zone" on his bike in that scene where he trails a jet taking off with fists pumping. Most hilarity from the video, though, is definitely the shots of Loggins interspersing the film material, standing in some no-space bedroom singing to himself in the old Ray Bans (promotion within promotion, astounding!).

These two songs demand to be understood as a pair, as they're intended to replicate the binary themes of love and combat that the film itself plays out ever so modularly and nicely. If Danger Zone is the boys' track, one pumped in F1 (but not MIG!) cockpits everywhere, then Take My Breath Away is its sensitive feminised counterpart. Thus in the Danger Zone clip we mainly get action cuts from the film, whereas in the Take My Breath Away video it's romantic incursions. Of course, these two arenas are thoroughly intertwined, as Top Gun umistakeably ties the phallus to the weapon, and establishes a cle
ar identity between male courting and military combat. This point itself would be fun to dwell on: the way in which the bar scene where Maverick first meets Charlotte (the bar being a "target-rich area") parallels the opening combat scene (the men being 'on patrol' in both); the way in which pilots gives one of the men a 'hard-on'; etc. etc.

But let's move onto Berlin's comparatively 'limp' love song - here, the forceful instrumentation of Danger Zone (and its aggressive lyrics - "on the e
dge", "in overdrive") are slowed down, made passive and receptive ("still anticipating", "take my breath away"). The masculine/feminine binary couldn't be more obvious, or offensive, but here it is in full view! It's no surprise these tracks were both written by Giorgio Moroder; dude even won an Oscar for Take My Breath Away. And if much of Top Gun can be seen (quite plausibly) as men flying (and riding) around in their phallic symbols, and as Maverick's ongoing synthesis with his steel machine, then its also no big surprise that in the film clip for Take My Breath Away we have Terri Nunn offering herself up in a big, gaping, creepy, hollowed-out aeroplane, then abandoning herself atop an F1.


Liars - Liars

"Well, Liars are like my favourite band ever, an example in that they’ve constantly adhered to change over three records but they’ve never done anything to please other people."
- Simon Taylor-Davis of Klaxons

Liars' fourth missive was issued this week, and listening to it I've come to both completely agree with, and yet dispute, the above quote, one which always stuck in my mind when listening to 'Drums Not Dead'. That is, because, Liars are a band so unchained to, yet so aware of, their already-developed sounds. They never sound the same across albums, and yet their entire discography can be conceived as a dialogic process, each new work answering, extending, denying, informing and being informed by its predecessors.

2001's debut They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top (herein Trench) was a forerunner of 'dance punk' before it was pinned down as such a genre. Self-knowingly amusing, and yet an undeniable force of art-punk fuzz and distorted synth - "cyborg junkyard rock" said Pitchfork. It garnered the band a sizeable fanbase, despite the thirty-minute-plus buzzing drum loop of final track 'This Dirt Makes Mud'.

Such a song proved to be frustrating foreplay for their second foray, the dangerously experimental They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (2004) (herein Drowned), a title which proved interestingly prophetic, as the album was broadly critically loathed - if the 'trench' and 'monument' was the acclaim and expectation that results from deifying a band for spearheading a scene and sound, then this album was the point at which those expectations were strongly countered and the band subsequently drenched in negative reviews. Drowned itself worked almost entirely in opposition to the debut, its loose, oblique, bricolaged Other.

It wasn't until Drum's Not Dead (2006) that Drowned was truly understandable, and critical reassessment went into overdrive as listeners recognised the second album as a crucial bridge (and break) between the tight debut and the percussive assault of this third offering. At once the band's most accessible and cuttingly avant-garde work, Drum's Not Dead told the tale of two friends (metaphors for dichotomous creative impulses) Drum and Mr Heart Attack, who journeyed through a neo-tribal world of synth-skewed drums. Again, a strangely self-descriptive title for its reception, this third album proved the band's creative abilities certainly weren't batshit insane (as some suspected with Drowned) and re-gained them a strong following.

Liars is the fourth in this process of (re)definition, and this time it seems like something of a recombination of all the band's previously elements - punk funk (or, broadly, a 'rock' impulse), heady experimentalism and ritualistic drum-scapes - and yet also it is none of these.

In a sense, Liars surfaces a previously submerged element to their work, namely, their ability to write a fucking cracking rock track, as the band play in relation to certain music histories, touching on elements from Led Zepellin to 60s garage and Jesus and Mary Chain (all put through a blender, mind). Pragmatics does seem somewhat the move here, and an easy label for this record (which I just used, evidently) is that it is one of "actual songs" (!). And yet, it's all drenched in a certain dank space, like a dungeon, and is pervaded by an abidingly GOTHIC aesthetic. Percussion, too, like every other album, is the underlying foundation to these songs, even on tracks that don't seem to feature heavy drumming
We've always used drums as the foundation of how to write a song, and that generally comes from a lack of musicianship on my behalf. Aaron would play a drumbeat and I would figure out how to do something with that.
- Angus Andrew

You know what, though? Between songs, the album itself doesn't even 'adhere' to any one sound - tell me the driving crunch of Plaster Casts of Everything and the (albeit crackled) dreamy Pure Unevil are by the same group (the first half of the album almost explicitly works on a one-two sequencing of juxtapositions, in fact)? And yet, of course, they are - because Liars stamp their character on everything they record, even if that character is somehow, counterintuitively, defined by differance.

Of course, much of this post (especially the preceding two paragraphs) has seen me oscillate between 'they do this' and then 'yet they also...'. This is nothing less than the byproduct of an attempt at describing a band who marry two ostensibly contradictory impulses: the desire to never sound the same, and the one to develop a band's musical identity.

Liars is Liars, indeed, but they're also liars.

Liars - Grown Men Don't Fall in the River, Just Like That (from Trench)

Liars - If You're a Wizard Then Why do You Wear Glasses? (from Drowned)
Liars - Drum and the Uncomfortable Can (from Drum's Not Dead)
Liars - Plaster Casts of Everything (from Liars)


mixtape: eat to the beat

Continuing the somewhat culinary theme already established in previous posting, I'd like to offer my first blog mixtape! This one is ever-so-originally entitled "Eat to the Beat"...


Oliver Twist - Food, Glorious Food
Musicals aren't normally my bag (nor are Dickens' novels), but who can resist these charming little street urchins?
Prodigy - Firestarter
Not only a seamless segue (!) but an admission of the fact that you can't cook without a fire.

Blur - Parklife
"I feed the pigeons I sometimes feed the sparrows too, it gives me an enormous sense of wellbeing"
Franz Ferdinand - 40'
What the blazes do these lads have to do with food? Well, silly, Alex Kapranos does (questionable) food writing!
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt.1
Health kicks!

Feist - Mushaboom
John Travolta & Samuel L. Jackson - Royale With Cheese (dialogue from Pulp Fiction)
French cuisine cops a beating in this classic dialogue. (Extra bonus track: Krusty Burger)
The B-52's - Rock Lobster
Speaks for itself, really.

Southern Culture on the Skids - Fried Chicken and Gasoline
They actually get fried chicken at their gigs and throw that shit at the crowd and everything.
Mick Jagger (& John Lennon?) - Too Many Cooks (Spoil the Soup)
The ultimate chef team? Read more here.
Dean Martin - That's Amore
Dude gets away with it because he's Italian himself!

Kelsey Grammar - Tossed Salad & Scrambled Eggs (Frasier theme)
Grammar cunningly establishes a very metaphysical conceit in the space of a 30 second television sitcom outro! Think about it: once made, these things can't be unmade...


Kelis - Milkshake
Damn right! Actually, this was her horrible crossover into something resembling the mainstream; but as should soon be clear 'quality' isn't so much the object with much of this mix as hammering everything in to fit the theme.

Animal Collective - Peacebone
C'mon, the whole album is about food! It's called Strawberry Jam for goodness sakes!
The Beatles - Strawberry Fields Forever
"Cranberry sauce" or "I buried Paul"? You decide!
Of Montreal - Raspberry Beret (Prince cover)
Kevin gets it right!

(the chocolate suite)
Muscles - Chocolate, Raspberry, Lemon & Lime
Again, very much over this dude, but songs don't get much foodier than this.

Hot Chip - Sexual Chocolate
Not much is sexier than Joe's dancing.
Chef - Chocolate Salty Balls (from South Park)
How terrible, I used to have the cd upon which this came, Chef Aid.
Tay Zonday - Chocolate Rain
**i move away from the mic to breathe in

And something to wash it all down with:
Rupert Holmes - Escape (The Pina Colada Song)
Honestly, has anyone noticed just how much he mentions alcohol in this track? Besides trashing organic food, he's hellbent on ingesting as much booze as he can. In the rain, too.

That's about it for this mix, you should be fairly stuffed by now. If you don't regurgitate from the poor selections and dubious sequencing featured, be sure to keep a look out for the next one!